The best single piece of general advice from Missouri's attorney general on how people, especially seniors, can avoid becoming the victims of scams is that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt stopped by the Heisinger Bluffs assisted living community in Jefferson City on Wednesday to present tips for seniors on how to avoid becoming scam victims. The visit is part of a set of four such presentations around the state.
Schmitt presented an audience of about 50 people tips on how to recognize and avoid common phone, internet, mail and door-to-door solicitation scams.
In general, no matter how a potential scammer reaches out, tips include:
Do not succumb to high-pressure tactics, such as demands for immediate payment or threats of arrest; that's not how reputable companies or government agencies do things, and "debt collectors can't arrest you."
Verify supposed issues with loved ones, government officials or customer service departments — whoever a potential scammer claims to be.
Do not give out sensitive personal information or turn over control of a computer.
Do not click on pop-ups or links from email senders that are not known and trusted.
Do not hand over money or pay anything up front, especially without a written contract in the case of a door-to-door solicitation.
Schmitt also said there are no fees involved with contacting the attorney general's office to report complaints of possible scams.
The attorney general's office reported earlier this year that in 2018, the office received almost 117,000 consumer complaints, including almost 50,000 complaints from consumers about No-Call list violations and illegal telemarketing calls.
The office also received more than 2,400 complaints about mail and phone solicitations, generally involving promises of prizes or money in exchange for payment, or receipt of what looked like an invoice or bill demanding payment.
More than 1,200 complaints about home repair, construction and real estate were received last year. "These types of complaints involve storm chasers going door-to-door asking for money up front and providing little to no work, contractors who accept upfront fees and do not provide any of the work, shoddy workmanship, and/or fail to honor home warranties," according to a news release from Schmitt's office.
Schmitt said educating seniors about the risks of scams and resources to seek help is important to him now because "we wanted to make sure in our first year of office that we're highlighting our role as a consumer advocate, and getting information of the common scams — disseminating that information, getting around the state, I just think is really important. It's a core function of our office, and — making people aware. The turnout's been great at every one of these (sessions)."
He said when he travels around the state talking about other issues, he's inevitably asked by people about what to do about experiences they've had with scammers.
When asked how phone scammers, particularly robo callers, get people's phone information, and whether any avenue to stop that is available to his office or others, Schmitt said, "We try to shut down the robo callers as best we can, but the fact is, they're very sophisticated, and they spend a lot of money. They get phone numbers, they get lists, they find out information about people. There's a lot of information, unfortunately, about people that's out there, and they try to exploit that. What we have to do know is just sort of deal with that reality, and make sure that we're going after the scam artists, especially when they're taking dollars and security from some of our most vulnerable."
Fraud can be reported to the attorney general at 1-800-392-8222.