By Lisa Redmond
LOWELL -- "God has answered my prayers. I won the lottery.''
That's what an Enterprise Bank customer told bank representative Prema Nagathan not long ago.
But then came the red flags.
The lottery representative who called the bank customer needed him to wire money to pay taxes before the $1 million in lottery winnings could be sent.
"There is no such thing as wiring money to win a lottery,'' Nagathan said, speaking at Lowell's Senior Center Thursday.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who sponsored the "Keeping Seniors Safe: A Senior Protection Seminar,'' said scams and crimes against senior citizens abound, but seniors can avoid losing their money and ruining their credit if they just use their common sense.
The lottery scam is the number-one scam, Ryan said. She said the people who get calls about winning the lottery always seem to have access to cash. Ryan said she believes there is a medical link of some sort where there is access to the person's personal information.
Don't give out your Social Security number or any sensitive information to someone who claims to be from a bank, a credit-card company or store. If uncertain, tell the person on the phone you will call them back. Then call the bank or the company to see if there is a problem.
* The door-to-salesmen scam involves two people who knock on a senior's door to sell something, Ryan said. While one person keeps the senior occupied, the other asks to use the bathroom. But instead of using the bathroom, that person is rifling through drawers to steal valuables.
* In the home-repair scam, there was a recent case where workers were hired to wallpaper a den. Instead of watching the workers, the homeowner ran some errands. While she was gone, the workers rifled through a desk. When she returned, the worker forced the woman to drive to her bank to withdraw money using her ATM card.
* The family-emergency scam is when a grandparent gets a call from someone claiming to be a grandson who is in jail and needs bail money wired, but doesn't want his parents to find out. It's fake.
* The caretaker scam involves someone who is hired as a caretaker, who begins stealing from the victim.
"People will often say they thought things were missing, but I didn't want to say anything,'' Ryan said.
Ryan also warned of abuse at the hands of a family member. This can be emotional, sexual, physical or financial abuse, as well as neglect.
Seniors are the most reluctant to report crimes involving a family member because they are embarrassed and fearful they will be forced into a facility, she said.
"The opposite is true,'' Ryan said. There is a presumption that a senior can stay in the home with services as long as they are safe.
Elder Services of Merrimack Valley Inc. (a mandated reporter) has information about services and can take reports of elder abuse.
But Ryan also warned there are some issues in which prosecutors' hands are tied.
If the senior has a joint bank account with a family member or trusted friend, that person is entitled to all the money in the account. In one case, a senior lost $1.6 million when the second person on the account withdrew all the money.
Ryan's advice is if there is there is an event, such as surgery, the senior may want to put some money into a joint account to pay bills, "but only enough money you can lose.''
The phone number for Elder Services of Merrimack Valley Inc. (www.esmv.org) is 978-683-7747 and the statewide elder-abuse hotline is 800-922-2275.
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