Sadly, stories of seniors being scammed out of the money are increasingly common. According to a recent study by MetLife, incidents of senior financial fraud increased by 12% from 2008 to 2010, amounting to a whopping $2.9 billion in stolen dollars.
There are many reasons why seniors make such attractive targets for financial crime. Those over the age of 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth, yet many may not realize the true value of their assets. As elders become more physically frail, they may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them. As a group, the elderly are also likely to suffer from disabilities that make them dependent on others for help. These “helpers” may have nearly unimpeded access to the assets of their victims, and often exert significant influence over the older person.
MSN recently discussed some of the most common scams targeting these vulnerable seniors. The list includes the following:
1. Grandparent scams. Scammers play on an old person’s loneliness and call up pretending to be a grandchild in need of fast cash. The routine includes pleas for money for college or stories about needing bail money in a foreign country.
2. Free lunch investment seminars. These schemes involve selling bad investments to seniors for high commissions. The particular product could be anything: real estate, time-shares, rare coins, etc. Often times the perpetrators of these frauds have official sounding titles or certifications. They sound good, but in the end are meaningless and lull seniors into a false sense of security.
3. Medicare fraud. This routine involves people posing as Medicare representatives calling to ask for personal information from seniors. Some scams are so elaborate that they even construct mobile health clinics to draw in the elderly and steal their private information.
4. Bogus sweepstakes. This one has been going on for a long time and almost always includes a promise of big money in exchange for wiring some of your own to claim the prize. In reality, if you win a prize you will not be asked to front any money to get your hands on it.
5. Dialing for dollars. Seniors are especially vulnerable to telemarketing scams as the sheer number of them is so large. Fake charities or fake credit card calls are some of the most popular approaches. Calls often come in the early morning or late at night in an attempt to catch seniors off guard.
6. Unsolicited home improvement. In this scam a person goes door to door selling what they say are necessary repairs. When (and if) the work gets done, the senior finds that the bill is dramatically higher than the quoted price or that shoddy materials have been used.
7. Home loan scams. Loan modification scams are popular at the moment as crooks offer to help seniors struggling with mortgage payments to lower their payments, all for a small upfront fee. The thieves typically just take the money and run, never bothering to do any actual work.
8. Power of attorney scams. These scams are especially sad because they typically involve someone close to the senior using their relationship to extract legal authority to manage the elder’s affairs. Rather than protect the senior, these people often use that power to drain the senior’s bank accounts.
9. Knock-knock thefts. This is a low tech and still popular tactic of having one person knock on the door and distract a senior while their counterpart grabs money or valuables.
10. Sweetheart swindles. This scam involves a younger person preying on older, usually male, suitors all to establish trust and eventually gain access to financial information.
If you suspect a senior is being financially abused, report the situation to the proper authorities who can then make a decision about whether or not to investigate. In California, reports can be made to the local county Adult Protective Services Agency or to local law enforcement. The following state website contains more information and where and how to report suspected abuse.
Christopher C. Walton is a California elder abuse lawyer with experience litigating cases involving financial fraud. If you suspect your loved one has suffered from abuse or neglect, please call (866) 338-7079 for a free and confidential consultation.
Source: “10 scams targeting seniors,” by Melinda Fulmer, published at Money.MSN.com.