Be aware that every time you fill out a form to enter a sweepstakes, you are potentially providing information which can and is sold to thieves. Many are not aware that sweepstakes entrants often are asked to fill out forms stating their buying habits, age, and other personal information. The sweepstakes itself could be a fake. The tactic of using sweepstakes entry forms to collect lists of names for scam artists is common. Some of the entry forms are intended solely to create databases of information on millions of elderly aging Americans. Databases can be profitably sold.
InfoUSA, one of the nation’s largest list brokers and a publicly held company, matches buyers and sellers of data. The company maintains records on 210 million Americans, according to its website. According to an article published in the New York Times, InfoUSA collected more than $430 million from clients like Reader’s Digest, and other publishers. Unfortunately, InfoUSA has also helped sell lists to companies that had been prosecuted for fraud, or were under investigation for crimes in telemarketing.
It may seem like innocent fun to enter the sweepstakes. After all, people win, don’t they? Beware that all sweepstakes are not legitimate, and the scam artists can get your information and call you at home, hoping to trick you into giving out your financial information. If you know folks who love to play the sweepstakes, warn them! This could be a way for thieves to gain access to their information, or even their bank accounts.
Friendly sounding scam artists call senior citizens on the lists and use a nice voice and interested manner to create a relationship. The elder may be lonely for someone to talk to, and this is just what the thieves are hoping to find. They will go to great lengths to get to know the unsuspecting elder, who begins to think of the scammer as a “friend” and begins to look forward to the daily calls. The personal-sounding chats are calculated to win the elder’s trust. It works. Millions of dollars are stolen this way each year. Eventually, the elder, who thinks of the scammer as their special friend, can be talked into giving out the elder’s bank account information. The scammer can then use other tricks to drain the account immediately and disappear. It can happen to anyone. Beware! And pay close attention to your aging loved one’s telephone calls. Perhaps the best protection is to stay in close touch with aging parents and loved ones and to keep them from feeling lonely enough to confide in a stranger who wants to steal.
©2007 Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R. N., Attorney at Law