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Nothing much is humorous about having your money stolen, but one notorious bank robber came close to humor when he was asked by police why he always robbed banks.

“That’s where the money is,” he told them.

With somewhat the same line of reasoning, seniors citizens are prime victims for all sorts of fraudulent schemes, since many have at least some money available in savings.

The North American Securities Administrators Association has estimated that Americans past 65 years of age comprise about 30 percent of all scam victims, although they constitute only about 13 percent of the population.

Telephone scams are aimed mostly at older people, with seniors estimated to constitute up to 80 percent of victims. Such frauds also have been estimated to add up to $40 billion a year.

The National Fraud Information Center has listed the top five fraud complaint categories. In 1995, the top five were sweepstakes and contests, magazine and publication offers, work-at-home schemes, investments and advance-fee loan or credit offers.

Many other scams occur, of course, and new ones seem to crop up regularly. One is classed as phony prize scams, in which the victim is told he or she has won a valuable prize, but must buy expensive merchandise or pay handling fees or taxes before receiving it. There is no prize.

Other scams include offers to repair your credit rating or help you to obtain a loan. Another fraud is an offer, for a fee, to recover money you lost to an earlier fraud scheme.

There are defenses, in addition to the knowledge that you don’t get something for nothing.

One defense is to tell a telemarketer not to call you again, since that makes it illegal for them to make more calls to you. If you have been victimized, you may be able to get help by contacting the state attorney general, calling the National Fraud Information Center at 1-800-876-7060, or contacting the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC also advised against various get-rich-quick schemes, including advice to check out the company thoroughly before investing. The Better Business Bureau in your state or the state in which the company is located may be helpful.

Get all promises in writing, including any promises that you have been given verbally. Check on the refund policy and get that in writing.

If investing in a franchise, ask for a disclosure document, which is required by law.

Beware if there is no such document. Beware if your questions are evaded or not answered fully. Probably in all cases, advice of a lawyer, accountant or business adviser is very helpful, and evasive tactics or high-pressure sales moves should arouse suspicions.

Take plenty of time and don’t be hurried.

Telemarketing is another hazard. Beware of anything that requires a fee up front. One safety move is to tell the telemarketer not to call again. The law requires that they must put you on a “do not call” list if you request it.

Generally, beware of any pressure to buy. It is best to deal with known, local businesses rather than consider proposals made by phone.

Oscar Chaffee is a retired Gazette state editor. He can be reached by writing to: Oscar Chaffee; Billings Gazette; P.O. Box 36300; Billings, MT 59107.

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