My grandma was away from home the entire summer of 2015. During that time, she received hundreds of magazines.
This is not normal. If you notice that your loved one has a million magazines piling up, there is a chance that they have been scammed. (This may also be an indicator that something is off with your loved one, but that’s another blog post for another day.)
Crooked companies target older Americans and put them on “sucker lists.” They will send your loved one information in the mail or call them, notifying they could win or have won a great prize to get them to sign up for inflated magazine subscriptions.
How to Recognize a Scam
Here are some tell-tale signs that a company is not legit. Check out my illustrated examples below.
Quality of the correspondence:
Look at the letterhead. Is it professional? Are there misspelled words in the letter or advertisement? Is it on cheap paper? Does it have inkjet printing? Chances are, they’re running the operation out of their crappy apartment.
Google it: Look the company up. Do they have good reviews on the Better Business Bureau? Or an endless list of complaints?
Email addresses: Does the ‘company’ use a Gmail email address? Chances are, they’re not legit.
Phone numbers: Are the numbers the same When you call the number listed on what you have received, are you sent to an endless loop of voicemails? Is it someone’s cell phone? Does anyone call you back?
My grandma had so many companies after her that we had to close her bank account. I couldn’t figure out where her money was going so fast! They had her information and were sucking out their ridiculous fees each month. And worse, when they would call her to tell her that she owed money for the subscriptions, she would just hand her financial information right over (That’s another blog post for another day).
The last straw is when a collection agency called her up and collected over $1,000.
I took matters in my own hands. I collected all of the mail and documents that were related to these fraudulent transactions, and followed these steps:
How to Stop the Magazines
- Get in Touch with the ‘Business:’ Chances are, you won’t be successful, but your first step should be to contact them to let them know the transactions were fraudulent.
- Report the Scammers: Submit the transaction to your bank or credit card holder as fraudulent transaction.
- Cancel the Cards: Call and report the debit/credit cards stolen. If your loved one used their checking account information, you will have to close it and open a new one.
- Cease and Desist: Prepare a stock letter to send to the ‘companies’ letting them know that you reported them to your financial institution and threaten to report them to your local authorities, the state attorney general office, as well as the FCC. Mail it and fax it. If an email is available, email the letter, too. (If you want me to send you a copy of what I used, let me know.)
- Cancel the Magazines: Contact the magazine publishers directly to cancel the subscription and notify them of what happened (It might be a good idea to prepare stock text that you can just copy and paste from – I will be glad to share what I used). You may have to actually mail a letter, but in most cases, I was able to log on with the information on her magazine label and cancel/suspend the delivery of the magazines. You can find this information normally either in the front of the magazine in the list of contributors or in the very back in small print, or you can go onto the magazine’s website and look for the subscribers’ section.
A couple of other steps I took to stop the magazine fiasco:
- Do not Disturb: I have all outside calls that aren’t saved in my grandma’s phone blocked. It has helped a ton in decreasing spam/scam calls. Read more at http://rachelh15.sg-host.com/youve-just-won-3-5-million-dollars-or-why-i-put-grandmas-phone-on-do-not-disturb/
- I am not Responsible: I had to work with my grandma to advise callers to get in touch with her granddaughter, her DPOA, to resolve the issues. Once my grandma let them know someone else was responsible for making her decisions, the calls stopped. Almost immediately.
- Seek the Help from the Outside: Sign your loved one (and yourself) up for the Do Not Call List (https://www.donotcall.gov/) and DMAchoice (https://dmachoice.thedma.org/). That will help thwart scam/spam calls and unsolicited mail.
- Sign up for Informed Delivery: I have not done this, yet, but the US Postal Service offers a service called Informed Delivery. This service allows you to view images of your incoming mail and track packages. This way, you can see what is coming into your loved one’s mailbox if you are not with them all of the time.
Three years later, Grandma still gets a couple magazines that we just weren’t able to cancel, but she’s no longer being robbed of her hard-earned money, and we don’t have piles and piles of magazines laying around (okay, that’s a lie… but one can dream, right?).
For more info on protecting seniors from scams, visit https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/protection-from-scams/
Have you had to deal with crooks taking advantage of a loved one? What did you do? Share the steps you took to protect your caree in the comments!