Friday, February 25, 2005


Long history of scamming old people (May 15, 1992, St. Petersburg Times)

Direct mail companies are using official-looking letters and false claims about threats to Social Security to scare senior citizens into sending them money, a congressional committee was told Thursday.

Though the Social Security Administration has stopped about 50 direct-mail organizations from sending misleading advertisements, other mass mailers and deceptive advertisers continue operating on the fringe of the law, witnesses told the committee.

Indiana Rep. Andy Jacobs, chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, summed up the situation by paraphrasing a country and western song: "They say "send your money to God,' but they give you their address."

Gwendolyn King, commissioner of Social Security, knows of the problem firsthand. Shortly after her father-in-law died, her mother-in-law received a letter offering her a $ 10,000 death benefit because Social Security wasn't offering enough. "It's just a cruel charade placed on Americans who don't need or deserve it," King told the committee.

Like much of the misleading mail, the letter to King's mother-in-law had an eagle on it to make it look official. Congress prohibited the companies from creating a false impression that they are affiliated with the Social Security Administration, but witnesses said Thursday that the law's $ 5,000 fine needs to be increased.

Letters from a group calling itself "Seniors Coalition" and another calling itself "United Seniors Association" that claim Congress has spent the Social Security Trust Fund.

"The politicians in Washington have stolen the Social Security Trust Fund. That's right. Every penny is gone " United Seniors wrote in a letter over the signature of former Sen. George L. Murphy. Murphy died recently.

Both letters ask recipients to send money.

Congressional investigators believe the two groups are tied to conservative fund-raiser Richard Viguerie. A tax return obtain by the investigators says one of the groups received more than $ 9-million in 1990.