Telegram & Gazette: Conference informs, exercises seniors

By Priyanka Dayal
April 24, 2009

At the 29th annual Senior Conference yesterday, Etel Capacchione led a workshop designed to teach seniors how not to become victims.

“We’re seeing a surge of consumer scams going around,” said Ms. Capacchione, a consumer mediator in state Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office.

Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet, she said. “Once the thieves have your social,” she said, “they can open bank accounts, take out loans on your name, they can steal your identity. And guess what – whatever happens, it will come back to you.”

Other advice: Stay away from deals that sound too good to be true; don’t divulge personal information; put your outgoing mail in a post office mailbox rather than your home mailbox; monitor your accounts; buy a good shredder; and don’t feel obligated to talk to anyone on the phone who doesn’t sound familiar.

Ms. Capacchione passed around a pile of authentic-looking letters and checks that people in Massachusetts have received. The phony letters claim the recipients have won cash or prizes, but before receiving the prizes they must wire money through MoneyGram or Western Union.

“Some look extremely legitimate,” she said. “A check from Sovereign Bank, a check from Bank of America, a check from a reputable company.”

The conference, held at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School, was sponsored by state Sen. James B. Eldridge, D-Acton. It drew a crowd of up to 1,400 seniors, who attended workshops to learn about such topics as property tax relief, senior discounts, prescription drug costs, and Internet use.

Bobby Waldman of Marlboro said she has been coming to the conference for nine years “in case I happen to need help, as seniors do. I’ve been lucky so far, but you never know.”

Ms. Waldman and her friend and mahjong partner, Bernice Yerra, tried something new yesterday: They shook their hips at a belly dancing class.

“If you’re not used to it, you get a little stiff, but other than that it was fun,” Ms. Yerra said.

Ms. Waldman likes anything that gets seniors moving. “If it doesn’t feel like exercise,” she said, “it’s even better.”

Mr. Eldridge, a former state representative now serving his first term as a state senator, told seniors yesterday that he is fighting hard for affordable prescription drugs, home care services, funding for councils on aging, and adequate state aid to prevent increases in local property taxes.

Ellie Shea-Delaney, the state’s interim secretary of elder affairs, said there should be more events modeled after the Marlboro conference. “Now, more than ever, state officials have a role to provide information to seniors,” she said.

Elder affairs staff are working hard to help seniors, despite the economic downturn, she said.

Some aid will come from the $787 billion federal stimulus package, which includes $2.1 million for nutrition services for seniors in Massachusetts. The money is expected to provide 300,000 meals for seniors in need.

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