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Senior Consumers

The Office of the Attorney General works to identify and aggressively prosecute those who cheat or deceive the elderly. The agency files lawsuits under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and, in some cases, may facilitate the resolution of disputes between consumers and businesses.

On behalf of Texas seniors, the Attorney General focuses on unfair and deceptive business practices that target seniors, as well as consumer education for seniors and their families. When it comes to the worst scams and frauds, prevention is the key to protecting Senior Texans.

Offers that Target Seniors

Businesses - and outright scams - may seek out senior consumers with a number of specific types of solicitations, some legitimate, some not. These include:

  • The advertising and sale of insurance and retirement-oriented investments, financial planning services, estate planning and legal services;
  • The advertising and sale of home improvements, medical devices and other services and products;
  • Telemarketing and mail fraud aimed at senior citizens;
  • "International lottery" offers and other sweepstake scams; and
  • Property tax exemption offers for seniors.

Financial planning, estate planning, and retirement income are subjects of vital importance to seniors. However, it is important that any legal or financial services offered are being provided by persons qualified to offer them. It is also important that the investments or insurance being offered is appropriate for older persons. And these offers should be made in an ethical manner, where risks are plainly disclosed and where the investor is not subject to undue pressure or influence.

Investment advisors and financial advisor firms are licensed by the State Securities Board (SSB). Contact the SSB to verify that an advisor is in good standing with the agency. Read our investments and securities page to familiarize yourself with investment fraud. Guaranteed returns and promises that an investment has low risk for high return are generally red flags.

Be aware that certain kinds of investments like annuities may be inappropriate for seniors. While they may be legitimate opportunities for some, they tend to be long-term investments, making them less appropriate for investors who may need their money within a shorter time horizon. Annuities are regulated by the Texas Department of Insurance.

Be particularly cautious of offers promising a "free lunch" - figuratively or literally. Be aware of the feeling of obligation you may feel to make an unexpected or unplanned purchase. Do not allow yourself to be isolated or pressured. Think twice about allowing a stranger to come to your home and/or to review your personal financial information.

Door-to-door sales of home improvements and repairs are notorious for targeting seniors who may physically need help with maintaining their homes and who may be intimidated by a door-to-door contractor who shows up on their premises. Unscrupulous sales may also involve medical products or devices offered to seniors with limited means and increasing health concerns.

Consumer Education for Seniors and their Families

Probably the most widespread and egregious targeting of senior consumers involves telemarketing and mail fraud. However, timely, up-to-date information about the latest scams, schemes and other crimes that target senior Texans can be a powerful protective weapon.

Most telemarketing and mail fraud that targets seniors is not robbery by force; it is robbery by trickery. In most cases, the intended targets can avoid becoming victims by understanding how scam artists operate.

The perpetrators of this kind of fraud are usually fly-by-night operators. Once they have the money, they tend to disappear or to squander the money before they can be found. The hard reality is that, once ripped off by a con artist, the consumer almost never gets his or her money back.

For this reason, you will find a major portion of the Attorney General's Senior Texan pages devoted to exposing, debunking and teaching the warning signs for scams and fraud. What you don't know CAN hurt you. We urge you to educate yourself, your friends and your families about consumer fraud.

Many of these scams victimize consumers who are not seniors. The Consumer Protection section of the Attorney General's Web site also provides information about fraud and scams. In addition, you can sign up to receive e-mail notifications of both consumer and senior alerts to find out about the latest scams targeting Texans.

Revised: May 06 2010