If you can play bingo, you can learn.

That's the thinking behind one state agency's push to help seniors avoid getting ripped off.

Pennsylvania's Department of Banking and Securities is trying to reach out to the elderly to prevent financial abuse and scams directed against them. To that end, the department has planned interactive presentations of "Consumer Fraud Bingo" to offer tips on how to avoid becoming a victim. The presentations are free and generally are open to all seniors.

The idea is that through bingo, a pastime familiar to just about everybody, the elderly can learn how to detect financial fraud by identifying scams affecting themselves or others, as well as being offered ways to protect themselves from financial abuse.

Education and outreach staff from the agency will be meeting with senior citizens, employee and service-provider groups, students, and the general public across the state during the month of April to discuss financial topics as part of Gov. Wolf's Consumer Financial Protection Initiative. You can even contact the department to set up a presentation in your area.

The game? Answer enough questions correctly to spell out the word F-R-A-U-D. Questions asked include the following (we're giving away some hints here):

"One of the reasons why seniors are targeted for fraud is that they are ...?" Too trusting.

"If someone calls to say you've won a huge sweepstakes you never entered, it's probably a ...?" Scam, yes, is the answer.

"Before donating to a charity with which you are not familiar, see how the organization is spending its funds by accessing ... ?" Guidestar, a free database of nonprofits and their rankings and tax returns.

You get the idea. It's a fun way for seniors to learn about how to avoid financial exploitation, and about whom to contact if they are victims.

If you're looking for one of these sessions in your area, check the Banking and Securities Department's Calendar of Events, which can be found at the website: http://www.dobs.pa.gov under "Calendar." Consumers and community groups can visit http://www.dobs.pa.gov/Consumers/Learn/Pages/Programs.aspx for more information.

Department staff will be participating in several events sponsored by members of the General Assembly, including State Sen. Charles McIlhinney's Senior Citizen Expo at Levittown Fire Co. #1, Colonial Hall, 701 Fallsington-Tullytown Rd. in Levittown on Tuesday, April 11, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"Basic Investment Fraud Bingo," the interactive presentation to help participants learn ways to protect themselves from investment fraud, will be offered at Next Gen Senior Center, 184 S. Lime St. in Quarryville (Lancaster County) on Tuesday, April 18, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

The Department of Banking and Securities' presentation "Cybersecurity – Staying Safe on the Internet," covering key topics such as using secure websites, creating strong passwords, being aware of what you put on social media, and even tips for shopping online safely – will be offered at the following locations:

  • Hopewell Manor in Elverson, Chester County, on Friday, April 7, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (open to Hopewell Manor residents only).
  • Columbia Senior Center at 510 Walnut St. in Columbia, Lancaster County, on Thursday, April 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
  • Elizabethtown Area Senior Center at 70 S. Poplar Street in Elizabethtown, Lancaster County, on Thursday, April 13 from 11 a.m. to noon.

Department staff also will be participating in a "Scam Jam" at the Salvation Army, Lancaster Corps, at 131 S. Queen St. in Lancaster on Monday, April 24, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Filing a complaint

If you or a friend or family member has been the victim of financial or investment fraud, you can file a complaint with the Department of Banking and Securities at the agency's website or by calling 1-800-600-0007. Phones are staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Alternatively, you can send a fax to 717-787-8773 or file your complaint by mailing it to the department's offices, 17 N. Second St., Suite 1300, Harrisburg, Pa. 17101.

In New Jersey, too, the state Department of Banking and Insurance takes questions and formal complaints about financial products via the Consumer Inquiry and Response Center.

You may contact the unit in several ways. For inquiries or assistance filing a complaint, call 609-292-7272 or the Consumer Hotline at 1-800-446-7467.

To formally file a complaint online, go to http://www.state.nj.us/dobi; fax it to  609-454-8468; or mail it to the department at P.O. Box 471, Trenton, N.J. 08625-0471.