Officials at WISE (Well-being, Independence, Self-esteem and Education) Senior Services in Santa Monica is providing programs to help reduce people’s risk of becoming victims of telemarketing fraud.

The U.S. Congress estimates that nearly $40 billion is lost each year to fraudulent telemarketers. Many of the thousands of Americans reportedly being deceived are seniors, according to WISE Senior Services.

While it is often believed that victims are incompetent, lonely and isolated, research shows that many of the older people being targeted have better-than-average educations, higher-than-average incomes, good relationships with family and friends and an interest in participating in community activities, according to WISE.

The senior service organization is offering free community programs in the next few months about how to avoid telemarketing fraud.

According to WISE, steps that people can take immediately if they receive a call from a telemarketer include:

ï ask for the name and address of the company and a clear explanation of the offer being made;

ï ask the caller to send written material to study, including the money back guarantee, before making a purchase;

ï call the Better Business Bureau, the state Attorney General’s office or the local consumer protection service in the state or city where the company is located and ask if any complaints have been made against the firm;

ï talk to family and friends, or call a lawyer, accountant or banker and get their advice before making any large purchase or investment; and

ï ask that your telephone number be removed from the telemarketing list if you don’t want to be called.

According to WISE, things people should not do when receiving a telemarketing call include:

ï don’t pay for any prize or send any money to improve your chances of winning;

ï don’t be intimidated into buying something “right now;”

ï don’t give any caller your bank account number — the caller can use it to withdraw money from your account at any time without your knowledge and/or permission;

ï don’t give your credit card number to anyone over the telephone unless you made the call; and

ï never wire money or send money by an overnight delivery service unless you initiated the transaction.

WISE Senior Services offers a number of programs that combat fraud, including the Senior Fraud Prevention Call Center, where volunteers contact victims and others at risk to talk about current scams, offer tips on avoiding fraud and provide referrals to local agencies.

WISE Senior Services also has a Seniors Against Investment Fraud program, which gives presentations on investment fraud to groups in the community.

Officials of the organization say it also seeks to educate the community directly by providing speakers for public and professional groups on financial elder abuse, ID theft, estate planning documents and hoarding.

Information about opportunities to volunteer, Petula Storey, (310) 394-9871, ext. 441.