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Daily Newscasts

Ho, Ho – Oh, No!

December 14, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - While most people see the holiday cheer that comes with this time of year, 'tis also the busiest season for charity scams.

Michele Kimball, director of AARP in Minnesota, says the most often-targeted group is senior citizens, who still embody the spirit of "Minnesota Nice."

"Even though most are living on a fixed income, they do want to do the right thing. And they are often taken advantage of because of their good heart, because of their trusting nature."

The scams can come by phone or mail, Kimball says, and increasingly by e-mail as more seniors get online as an easy way to keep in touch with family.

"They're just getting on. They're learning the ways of the Internet. They're learning e-mail. It's very easy for these scam artists to send out legitimate-looking e-mails that pull at heartstrings."

Scammers try to add to the charade of legitimacy in a number of ways, Kimball says, including the use of a sound-alike organization name.

"For example, everyone has heard of the Arthritis Foundation. There was a big scam regarding an organization that called themselves the 'National Arthritis Association' - very hard to distinguish between legitimate and not legitimate."

Despite the millions of dollars lost in Minnesota each year to fraud and scams, only 5 percent of victims report the crime. Kimball says it's because they often feel embarrassed, but adds that anyone of any age can get fooled. Her advice: Do your research and stand your ground.

"It is OK to say 'no,' and it is OK to turn an inquiry away. Scammers are betting on your generosity; they're betting on your niceties - and they will do whatever it takes to separate you from your money."

Last year in Minnesota, $31 million was lost to fraud and scams.

If you're concerned, Kimball says, call the Senior Linkage Line at 1-800-333-2433. Other resources include the Better Business Bureau, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Minnesota Attorney General's consumer hotline.

More information is online at

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN