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Cox knowledge can protect seniors

By Ed Brock

Ola Dooley isn't going to be fooled by anyone.

The 79-year-old Forest Park resident knows to be wary of complicated investment schemes, phony charities and other scams.

"We just don't give out anything and we have a restricted phone line," Dooley said. "We work hard for our money and we just try to invest it where it's secure."

Dooley is a member of Forest Park's Triad, an organization that brings senior citizens together with public safety officers. The seniors learn how to protect themselves and public safety officers learn how to help the seniors. Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox recently spoke to the group about the many scams targeting seniors. Dooley was familiar with some of the scams mentioned by Cox like luring seniors into complicated investment schemes. Several conditions in society, including volatile stock markets, record low interest rates, rising health care costs, and increasing life expectancy are combining to form a "perfect storm" for the victimization of seniors, she said.

"All of these have created a perfect opportunity for the back-alley con-artists to come out of the back alley and come right down Main Street to where you live," Cox said.

These con artists try to convince their victims to sell their legitimate stocks and bonds in order to buy useless short-term promissory notes, often urging them not to tell their children about what they are doing.

The people perpetrating these frauds are often someone the victim trusts, someone they know from church or even a trusted insurance sales person, leading to the term "affinity fraud." In one case cited by Cox, the mayor of a small town used his position to fool several people into bad investments.

Also, scams related to the war in Iraq are also becoming popular, Cox said. She warned Triad members to be wary of phone calls and e-mails regarding charities that claim they are supporting rebuilding efforts in the war-torn country.

Cox urged the crowd not to be "courtesy victims" by continuing to talk to phone solicitors who are not legitimate.

"You have to be on guard where your money is concerned," Cox said.

One common scam in the Forest Park area is overcharging for services rendered such as yard work, Forest Park police Capt. Chris Matson said.

"They say they can do it for a certain amount and then afterward they say it took a lot longer than I expected and instead of $50 it's going to cost $500," Matson said. "We're pretty fortunate that we have some well educated seniors on avoiding scams."

The county police department has dealt with similar crimes, Capt. Jeff Turner said.

"One woman paid up front to have her house painted and services were never rendered," Turner said.

While most people who are contracting for remodeling work on their homes ask questions like "How long will it take?" and "How much will it cost?" the National Association of the Remodeling Industry urges them to ask other questions as well. For example, one should ask how long the company has been in business, how many projects they have performed that were similar to the one the person is contracting them to do and if they are licensed and certified.

Cox said her office offers information on charitable organizations (they are required to register with the state) and possible investment fraud. Call (404) 656-3920 or go to www.sos.state.ga.us for information on those matters.