Senior citizens center director warning of 'free meal' scam

Caller offered to come to elderly resident's home to 'sign them up'

From Staff Reports

Feb. 28, 2008 - The program director at the Senior Citizens Activity Center in Sulphur Springs is warning county residents about a new scam targeting older residents.

This time, a woman pretending to represent Northeast Texas Opportunities Inc. in Mineola is calling up senior citizens, "offering" to sign them up for a free meal program and proposing to come to their house to do it.

One sure tip-off that this is a bogus attempt to take advantage of unsuspecting residents is obvious -- there is no NETO program currently in Mineola, said Karon Weatherman, program and marketing director of the Senior Citizens Center and Meal A Day program in Sulphur Springs.

"The Meals on Wheels Program signs people up through the Health and Human Resource Center, and the Meal A Day Program talks directly to the people wanting on our program," said Weatherman, who coordinates activities at the senior citizens center on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. "Neither one of the programs calls to solicit people for their programs."

Northeast Texas Opportunities in Mount Vernon does service the Sulphur Springs area, Weatherman said, but there is currently a waiting list for those services and NETO "would not call people to join their program."

Weatherman said she was recently made aware that a woman claiming to be from NETO in Mineola had made calls to locals about a free meal program. The caller then asked to make an appointment to visit the older citizen's residence to "discuss" the program and "sign them up."

The senior center director said the claim is bogus, and urges seniors to be wary of anyone they don't know who calls or visits, especially when making offers which would require entry to the home or access to personal information.

Anyone with questions or information about the "free meal program" scam can contact Weatherman at 903-885-1661.

Weatherman's cautions echo those of local police, who are constantly warning people not to give out personal information and to beware of anyone offering something for essentially nothing.

They continually receive reports of e-mails purporting to be from financial institutions claiming there are problems with accounts. The e-mails require an online response and seek personal information the institution should already have. Police also receive regular reports of other scams, either through the mail, over the Internet or in person, in which people offer money, programs or other services for free or very little.

Many a time do investigators and officers caution to be wary. "If it seems to good to be true, it probably is" serves as their mantra.

In the same vein, law enforcement officers often remind individuals not to let anyone in their home and not to give out information on unsolicited calls, regardless of how legitimate they seem.

If in doubt, contact authorities, or get a contact number for the potential scammer to verify the individual is who he claims to be. Ask for references when offered services at low rates.

The bottom line is this: Don't give out personal information over the phone, to anyone you don't know.

Also, if shopping online, protect your information -- make sure websites are secure.

Weatherman reminds local residents that among the important information to guard from unsolicited callers and visitors are Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card or other account numbers or driver's license numbers, even dates of birth. Failure to do so so can lead to identity theft and lots of legal and financial headaches..

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