Web-savvy scam artists are lurking everywhere on the net, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, reports the International Herald Tribune.
Posing as government and insurance workers simply updating their files, shysters telephone World War II vets, retired schoolteachers and thousands of other elderly Americans and ask for their bank account information.
Like many seniors, Richard Guthrie, a 92-year-old U.S. Army veteran, entered a few sweepstakes hoping to get lucky. Little did he know that his name appeared in a database advertised by infoUSA, one of the largest compilers of consumer information. InfoUSA then sold his name - and data on other elderly Americans - to known lawbreakers, regulators say.
Many of the these lists clearly target clients that use the information illegally. Advertising headlines such as "Elderly Opportunity Seekers" and "Suffering Seniors," the lists vie for scam artists' attention with such come-ons as 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer's disease. One list blatantly proclaimed: "These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change."
Telemarketing fraud has been around since the telephone was invented, but the Internet has launched it into a global operation. Personal information is sold by publicly traded companies, and banks have made it possible for criminals to access accounts without authorization, according to court records.
"Only one kind of customer wants to buy lists of seniors interested in lotteries and sweepstakes: criminals," said Sergeant Yves Leblanc of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "If someone advertises a list by saying it contains gullible or elderly people, it's like putting out a sign saying, 'Thieves welcome here.' "
The elderly are targeted because they are often at home, rely on delivery services and are lonely for the companionship. Seniors account for some 30 percent of telemarketing sales.
As of the beginning of of last year, federal agencies have filed lawsuits or injunctions against at least 68 telemarketing companies and individuals accused of stealing more than $622 million, mostly from senior citizens.