Magazine scam targets elderly citizens' bank accounts

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By Geoff Hamill

A telephone scam recently found a victim in a local woman as a company charged her hundres of dollars for magazine subscriptions.

Springfield resident, 81-year-old Jewell Lawson, was one recent victim, and without the attentive eye of her daughter, Donna Balentine, the incident might not have been discovered.
Balentine, who lives in southern Indiana, was helping her mother with her checkbook recently when she discovered that the balance was not what it should be. Balentine was able to track down suspicious charges and she found that her mother’s account had been charged $299.50 for magazine subscriptions.
Lawson, who suffers from Alzheimers according to her daughter, did not recall receiving the telephone calls that  sold her the subscriptions, but Balentine was able to reach the company making the calls. She said she was told her mother had authorized the purchases, and even provided her bank account information for payment. In addition to the $299.50 subscription fees, she was also charged a $19.95 payment processing fee on two occassions.
Lawson banks locally with Springfield State Bank, and Keith Reed, a vice president and loan officer with the bank, said it’s not uncommon for incidents like this to take place, and he said he has even experienced similar problems with his own father’s account.
“It is, I guess, considered elder abuse. Even with my dad, while he still handled his own accounts, people would call and he would agree to subscribe or make a donation. Donations are probably one of the worst,” Reed said. “If they give someone their checking account number and verbally over the phone give the authorization to do that, we can stop payment on those and go back some times and collect it for the folks. But if they have given the number and authorized that release, a lot of times they’ll record the conversation so they have to be careful with their money, and people caring for them have to watch for stuff like that.”
Reed said it is important to watch the accounts of elderly family members because there are times when a person can sign up for a magazine subscription, and that subscription will automatically sign the person up for a buyers’ club or other fee-based items of which they might not be aware.
“I’ve seen a few times that people get in a habit of buying things, and they almost get addicted to it,” Reed said. “There’s correspondence in the mail, and sometimes it’s preying on older folks.”
Balentine contacted The Springfield Sun last week and said she has managed to get her mother’s money returned, while ending the subscriptions and stopping any future charges. She added that anyone concerned about their elderly family members’ banking accounts should keep a close eye on charges being applied to the accounts.