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Column: Seniors get lots of attention from hucksters

I never expected a "popularity" problem would arise in my old age. But here I am, well past my twin eights birthday cake and becoming the object of more attention than I really want. My fellow seniors have the same problem.

By popularity, I mean the volume of attention being focused on us from several sources.

Many of our "suitors" approach us through the mail. Our mailboxes abound with their attentiveness. Dinner and luncheon invitations average two or three a week. They want to feed us if we will listen to a little talk beforehand, usually about annuities or similar investments. Some of the eateries they use have upscale reputations but you can bet against any juicy steaks being on our assigned menu and you can almost always bet on ending up with the standard free dinner special, popularly known as rubber chicken.

After a few forays in years past, I learned that coupons and time-based meals are a better route. You might have to pay for them, but the price will be right and there will be no lecture accompanying it.

Some mailing pieces are based on a sort of fear psychology entreating us to take advantage of an offer now — or else. The gravity of the "or else" never seems quite clear. For instance: Get your water tested now while our crew is in your area. Never mind that most tests reveal less bacteria in faucet water than in bottled water.

Envelopes sometime contain impressive names like Tax Information Service or Car Warranty Bureau. They are really trying to charge us for tax information we can get free by ourselves or sell us an extended warranty on our car, which is more than a few years old and probably a candidate for a trade-in anyway. The prices of these "warranties" will shock you back to reality, though.

Chain letters are probably as old as the U.S. Postal Service itself, but most are no longer borne by your letter carrier. They enter your life via e-mail. It might be less easy to resist the warning about the possibly dire fate awaiting those who do not send them on, since a few clicks are probably better than buying today's expensive postage stamps. However, most of them don't "click" with me.

Reverse mortgages are a popular attention getter at the moment. They are complex and not recommended for all, but the letters about them portray them as the greatest economic discovery since paper money. Movie star Robert Wagner does one of their TV commercials and I always feel somewhat gratified to see that he has gotten old too.

Telephone calls remain a source of unwanted attention despite the national Do Not Call List. I find, however, that I can cut most callers off in mid-spiel by mentioning the list.

Still, most of us don't mind the more positive little attentions we get, such as senior discounts at stores and restaurants or special senior admissions to movies or sports events.

When you add it all up, I guess it's better to get attention, both good and not so good, than to get none at all.

Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.

Column: Seniors get lots of attention from hucksters 01/03/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 10:29am]
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