Credit Lessons for Retirees
by Rebecca Lindsey
Chances are, you have probably received one of those flashy letters with big headlines that practically scream "YOU'VE JUST WON A BAZILLION DOLLARS!!!" You begin to get really excited and then you see that really, really tiny print below the headline that reads "You might actually hear this statement if you have the winning number out of the 100 billion numbers we give out, and oh, you must send us $15 in order to get a number in the first place."
Although this example may be somewhat far-fetched, this type of scam happens everyday. Common "scams" or frauds appear in the form of contests, home repair offers, and credit offers. Unfortunately, fraudulent activities often target senior adults. Some estimates show that the elderly are scammed out of $40 billion each year. This is not because American seniors are less savvy than younger people. Our greatest generation is simply not accustomed to mistrusting people or doubting the credibility of offers they receive. Scammers often use fast, friendly chatter and slick promises to make the consumer feel at ease. This helps scammers convince the consumer that they just can't pass up the offer.
Credit card offers with phony promises of obtaining credit cards are often targeted at senior adults who have no credit history or a poor one. In one common scenario, the scammer asks the senior to provide them a fee in advance before they can receive a guaranteed credit line. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, the so-called credit organization does not really exist and the victims lose their money. The golden rule to follow when considering any unsolicited offer is that if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is! Other good rules of thumb:
- Never give out personal information over the phone to an unsolicited caller. This includes your social security number, address, bank account, credit card numbers, phone numbers, or date of birth.
- If you are considering a card offer from a telemarketer or unsolicited mail, first check with your local Better Business Bureau, or the National Consumer League National Fraud Information Center. These organizations can often give you reports on unscrupulous companies.
- If money is requested in advance, be wary. Research the company using the resources listed in #2, unless you know for certain that you are dealing with a reputable company.
For other tips on avoiding credit fraud, check out the Association of American Retired Persons website. Also consider local resources to learn about credit cards and how to spot scams.
Why Is Everybody Always Picking On Me?
Senior adults are also at risk for credit discrimination. This seems rather ironic when you consider that older adults tend to have less heavy debt and fewer bankruptcies than younger people. Reduced income and no prior credit history are among the common causes of discrimination as cited by the AARP. But you should know that credit discrimination is against the law, and you can take action if you experience this type of treatment. Review the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) on the FTC's website to find out what you can do.
Now Have Some Fun
Now that you know how to avoid the scams, take a look at some trustworthy credit cards that cater to seniors.
- First USA has partnered with the American Association of Retired Persons to offer the AARP Platinum Visa Card.
- American Express offers a Senior Member Card for their "mature members." While this is not specifically for senior citizens - you only have to be 18 year of age to obtain one - you will earn a reduced annual fee if you are 62 years of age or older. There are also a slew of "senior perks" associated with this card.
- Like to hit the open road? First USA offers several cards that offer special perks for travelers. Many of these cards offer discounts for popular tourist destinations, including Pigeon Forge, LasVegas, and the Grand Ole Opry.
There are countless others - Golf Digest MasterCard, World Travelers of America Visa, Colonial Williamsburg Visa, the list goes on. Rember to look to established credit companies and don't forget to view the Credit Cards section of our site. After finishing your homework, let the good times roll!
Important Note! The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.
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Rebecca Lindsey is a Senior Staff Writer for CardRatings.com. She began writing articles about consumer credit issues for CardRatings.com in September 2000. Her articles have been republished and/or referenced by leading publications throughout the country, including Live Well on Less Than You Think: The New York Times Guide to Achieving Your Financial Freedom by Fred Brock.