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AARP Consumer Report Advises How Not To Become A Victim

Sweepstakes and puzzle contests increasingly target older people in schemes that cost consumers billions of dollars a year.

Many sweepstakes promoters, particularly those who make telephone pitches, target older adults because they are friendlier and open to strangers. They also are more likely to be interested in promotions for such items as vitamins, medical alert systems, home safety kits or vacations.

"Americans are being ripped off every day by unscrupulous sweepstakes. They need to be better informed about how to identify scams and what to do if they believe they have been taken advantage of," said Joan King of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

A new consumer report by AARP describes the various types of contests and sweepstakes scams, and outlines legal actions that may be taken to recoup lost money and to force unscrupulous promoters to cease their activities.

Legitimate prize promotions do not require a purchase or payment of fees to win. Consumers should be wary of promotions that require entry fees with the submission of answers to a series of increasingly difficult questions. Other 'red flags' include being asked for a credit card number over the telephone and receiving multiple solicitations from the same company.

Consumers also should be extremely skeptical of calls from anyone offering to help them recoup money already spent in sweepstakes. This is known as 'reloading' and typically is another rip-off.

Federal and state laws exist to protect consumers from fraud, including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Fair Credit Billing Act, and statutes prohibiting unfair and deceptive acts and practices.

Consumer complaints have led to investigations by the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI and attorneys general of several states. These investigations have exposed the fraudulent practices of some telemarketing companies and led to restitution to victims, many of them older people.

Copyright 1994 by the American Association of Retired Persons

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