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Scams On The Elderly: Can We Do Anything About It?

Scam artists have always preyed on the gullible, but in recent years,
much of the focus of these thieves has been on the elderly. It is quite a well
known fact that the elderly possess the greatest percentage of disposable
income with the least amount of debt. Old people with money. Scam artists
prey upon these people with unrelenting deception. It is not a problem that will
just go away. The problem must be analyzed and only then can we learn
what to do.

First we must analyze the different "red flags" which identify certain
members of the elderly as targets for scams. First off, these older consumers
are often living alone, with no one else to watch their finances for them. Being
alone, they are often very appreciative and receptive of guests, especially
those who pay a visit even to sell them something which will be of benefit to
them or their homes. They are also very receptive to anything promising
assistance to their health conditions or home repair requirements.

Scam artists also look at demographic numbers to choose their elderly
targets. According to Jeanne Mackin, an author for a consumer watch
organization, 80 % of people age 65 and over have at least one major health
problem of some sort and spend a great deal of their monthly budget on health
care. And combine that with the fact that 71% of those people own their own
homes, of which many were built before 1950, and you have a combination
ripe for fraud against the elderly. (1)

Some examples of fraud against the elderly include:
- A "city inspector" arrives at the home, stating he needs to check the plumbing, furnace, or wiring, and when problems are found, states that he will call a "friend" to make the repairs. The work is overcharged and done poorly, if at all.
- The older consumer receives in the mail newspaper clippings about a new health miracle product with a "personal" handwritten note saying, "Try this! It works!" But when money is sent, the product never arrives, is overpriced, or is useless, if not just plain harmful.
- A product demonstrator arrives at the home and asks the resident to sign a paper just saying that the demonstrator visited. In fact, the trusting consumer, who hasn't read the form, signs a contract ordering the product. (1)

Telemarketing is another powerful tool scam artists use to prey upon the
elderly. By being on the phone, the con is relying on his/her voice to convince
the person that they are providing that elderly person a valuable service or
product. They are good at taking advantage of people's honesty and
politeness.(5) The con artist's favorite targets using the telephone, are those
suffering with memory loss. By taking advantage of this, the con artists can
call someone up and gather as much personal information as possible. A
favorite scam is for the con artist to make that information gathering call,
and then the next day, if the senior cannot remember the first conversation, the
con then tells the senior that they "sent too much money", and that they need to
send a new check for the "correct" amount. Either out of forgetfulness of the
previous call, or out of sheer guilt, that elderly person writes the check for the
amount requested. (2)

Another very common method of scamming the elderly is sweepstakes
mailers. or everyone, the chance to win thousands upon thousands of dollars,
or to win major prizes is always a welcome thought. Especially to those who
were not so fortunate to gather much money throughout their lives. Usually,
the scam requires for the elderly person to send in a "confirmation deposit" on
their prize, which is NEVER required of a winner in any legitimate contest. If
the elderly person ever hears from the contest people, it is usually just to let
them know that they have the opportunity to buy over-priced products and then
receive a small, cheap gift, which was probably what they were promised as a
prize to begin with.(4) Watch for signs of these gifts around the elderly
person's house. (3)

Consumer fraud costs all Americans billions each year, but it is the
elderly which carry the lions share of the amount. These con artists not only
cause financial ruin among the elderly, but also cause a great deal of
emotional distress and even health problems as a result of phony health
products or services. (2) But worst of all, like children, the elderly are
extremely trusting, and by violating that trust, they cause that person to change
his/her behavior in such a way that they may never be "themselves" again.

According to the Better Business Bureau, there are many steps we can take to ensure that the elderly protect themselves from these scam artists.
- Never allow seniors--or anyone else--to give out personal banking information or credit card numbers to someone who has initiated a call and/or promises money in exchange for information.
- If an individual requesting money says he's from a government agency, ask for a certified letter on an official letterhead.
- Get involved with seniors' financial decisions as much as possible, especially when managing personal finances has become a burden.
- Smart consumers never buy any goods or services at the door, over the phone or through the mail without first doing some careful comparison shopping and checking with the BBB. If the salesperson will not provide written information about the company--including te company's name and address, do business with someone else.
- Visit the homes of elderly relatives and friends regularly. Watch for frequent calls from telemarketers (con artists tend to develop relationships with their lonely victims and prey on their need for conversation.)
- Watch for a full mailbox. Large numbers of daily mailings from promotion companies could indicate that the resident is on a "sucker" list and regularly plays along with potentially expensive promotions. Be alert for boxes of "junk" gifts or personalized items like pens or letter openers in the elder's home. This could indicate an involvement in prize or sweepstakes scams. (1)

People who have elderly relatives need to make their loved ones fully
aware of how these scam artists could possibly get to them. They need to
know how to protect themselves from these robbers. If consumer awareness
became more prevalent in the minds of the elderly, these con artists would not
experience much success, and we would be protected.