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Release: Immediate

UI professor warns to be watchful of senior scams during the holidays

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- All consumers, but especially older Americans, need to be watchful that their spirit of giving doesn't get them caught in holiday scams, says a University of Iowa expert on elderly consumers.

Catherine Cole, associate professor of marketing, says con artists sometimes take advantage of the holiday spirit by preying on senior citizens with appeals for phony charities or scams offering "special holiday" deals.

"The appeals for charities goes up around Christmas and people are in more of a giving mood," Cole says. "Older Americans are especially vulnerable to being duped, and, unfortunately, Christmas can be a good time to do that," Cole says.

Cole, an expert on how elderly Americans use consumer information, says people should not be afraid to donate to charities during the holidays or other times of the year. But she says consumers should be cautious if they are dealing with organizations or businesses they are not sure about.

She offers some advice for consumers:

-- If you have any doubts, get more information from another source. Call the area Better Business Bureau or the charity's headquarters. Legitimate nonprofit organizations won't be afraid to provide financial information about themselves.

-- Ask for written information that you can take the time to read and understand before you make a decision.

-- Avoid offers that are only good if you sign up immediately. A legitimate offer will provide the same deal regardless of when you make the purchase or the donation.

-- Remember that Iowa law gives consumers three days to change their minds if they decide against making a purchase.

Cole says scam artists often take advantage of senior citizens who process information less quickly and less effectively; who are more trusting of strangers; or who live alone.