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Personal Finance

Scammers target nervous seniors, people with the flu

Consumers need to be aware of two big scams this year, one targeting seniors, the other the general public.

Seniors nationwide are reporting pushy, suspicious telemarketing calls from businesses using names such as ‘‘Senior Emergency Care,’’ “Senior Safety Alert,’’ and ‘‘Senior Safe Alert,’’ the Better Business Bureau reports.

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A prerecorded call pitches a personal emergency alarm system. The alarm, it warns, is necessary to protect against break-ins and medical emergencies. It claims you can get an system worth several hundred dollars for free. You are responsible only for a monthly charge of about $30.

The recording prompts you to speak to a person for ‘‘verification.’’ However, victims told the BBB that staff refuse to provide basic business information, such as the address. Typically, the calls appear to come from a nearby area code, but these numbers can be misrepresented, the BBB says.

In some cases, the calls are pushy but legitimate. In others, they are phishing scams that impersonate real businesses and seek credit card numbers and personal information. The BBB says a call is probably a scam if it:

 Tries to create a sense of panic. In this case, the call alarms seniors by describing a situation in which they are incapacitated.

 Pushes for immediate action.

 Promises something free. Be wary of ‘‘free’’ offers that ask you to pay a handling fee or other charges.

 Implies an endorsement from a well-known organization. In this case, the call claims the alarm system is endorsed by the American Heart Association and the “American Diabetic Association.” But just as scam e-mails often­ contain spelling and grammar errors, fraudulent calls can have things like references to the American Diabetes Association as the ‘‘Diabetic Association.”

The other alert comes from the Food and Drug Administration. As the flu makes people sick, scammers promote fraudulent products. There are no legal over-the-counter drugs to prevent or cure the flu. There are ­legal products to reduce fever and relieve aches, congestion, and other symptoms.

“Right now, so-called alternatives to the flu vaccine are big with scammers,’’ said Gary Coody, the FDA’s health fraud coordinator.

But unapproved drugs — sometimes also marketed as dietary supplements, conventional foods (such as herbal teas), or devices (such as air filters and light therapies) — are fraudulent if they make flu prevention, treatment, or cure claims.

On Jan. 25, the FDA and Federal Trade Commission warned the company that markets GermBullet, a nasal inhaler that makes flu prevention and treatment claims. It must remove language in its labeling and advertising that violates federal law.

If you get the flu, two approved antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, are options. These prescription drugs can help fight the virus and shorten the illness. They also help prevent the flu.

When using an online pharmacy, buy prescription drugs only through a site that requires a valid prescription and is licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the patient lives.

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