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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Millions of older Americans are defrauded by con artists and many do not report the crime, but avoiding key activities and taking certain precautions can safeguard against scams, new research shows.
A study by the AARP Foundation, the charity of the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, showed that only about a quarter of fraud victims over 50 years old reported the crime.
And the older the victims are, the less likely they were to admit being duped.
The study also identified activities -- opening and reading all junk mail, attending free lunch seminars, entering draws to win a free prize and inviting salespeople into the home -- that raise the risks of being a victim of investment cons, lottery scams, loan schemes and bogus business deals.
"Our research has shown that avoiding some of these common sales situations and taking a few simple preventative actions can go a long way in protecting our pocketbooks." said Doug Shadel, a co-author of the AARP study.
About 30 million Americans, or 13.2 percent of the adult population, are victims of fraud, according to data released in 2007 by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
In the year-long AARP study of 2,232 people, which was conducted by Woelfel Research Inc. and included 723 victims of fraud, 65 percent of those who had been conned had participated in at least two of the activities. Older fraud victims were twice as likely as other older Americans to have engaged in all four of the activities.
People who are defrauded also fit certain profiles, according to the research. Married, well-educated, high earning older men were more likely to be victims of investment fraud, while single older men and women with lower incomes and education levels tended to fall prey to lottery scams.
Victims of drug scams and identity thefts were more likely to be single, lower earning, less-educated women.
Shadel said the amount of the fraud can be considerable, depending on the type of scam. In investment fraud cases victims can lose thousands of dollars.
People fail to report the fraud for a variety of reasons.
"A lot of times the answer is embarrassment," said Shadel. "Sometimes they say they did not know who to report it to. Sometimes they say they didn't think it would make any difference."
Shadel and his team advise people to be proactive to avoid scams. They suggested people check references and wait 24 hours before making a decision to buy something. For tricky or difficult situations a refusal script could be useful against the persuasive tactics of a con artist.
They also recommend signing up for the Do Not Call List at www.donotcall.gov, to prevent telemarketing.
"Every con man I have interviewed said his central goal is to get people into a heightened emotional state so they make a bad decision. We say never make a buying decision at the time of the sales pitch. Always wait at least 24 hours to cool down," Shadel added.