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Scams that Target Senior Citizens

Guys Stick TogetherAs the daughter of a 94-year-old man, I have to be constantly on the alert for ways that seemingly “nice people” are trying to take advantage the fact that my father has lost much of his ability to make wise decisions. Because he still lives at home with his wife, I can’t watch him constantly. But I have learned by sad experience some of the ways that con artists are able to get information and money out of this vulnerable segment of our society. I hope that by sharing a few of my experiences and some of what I learned from research, we all will be able to do a better job of protecting our elderly loved ones, patients and ourselves from those who prey on older people. Whatever else you do, don’t fail to read every word on this website: http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors.

Personal Experience

In just the past 2-3 years, my father has fallen victim to the following scams that specifically target the elderly:

Advance Fee Schemes: Told he had won a million dollars in a sweepstake (that he didn’t enter), he sent money orders totaling $4,000 to an address in the U.K. for “taxes” on his winnings. It return, as “proof” of the available prize, he was sent a fraudulent check that bounced as soon as the Bank’s holiday weekend ended. No one could/would help me get it back. (Don’t pay for a “free prize.” If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.)

Telemarketing Fraud: Scammed twice in the last 4-6 months, Dad was convinced to buy a $2,000 generator and a $2,500 “exercise machine” without consulting anyone who could have told him that the gas-powered generator couldn’t be used in the house, or that the “exercise machine” (it only vibrated) had to be used on a hard surface and was too high off the floor for him to step up onto it. When we returned the both items, more than $1,000 was charged for shipping and restocking fees that took us months and filing a claim with the Better Business Bureau to get the remainder credited to his account. (Check out this recent news report on NBC and these tips on how to recognize a fraudulent offer.)

Fraudulent “Anti-Aging” Products: Convinced by brochures with bogus testimonials that if he takes the right pills he will look better, feel better and live longer, Dad has ordered thousands of dollars of supplements that not only aren’t helping, but have the possibility of worsening some of the natural results of aging, such as his Type II Diabetes. Warnings like those below don’t keep him from doing it.

Tips for Avoiding Fraudulent “Anti-Aging” Products:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for “Secret Formulas” or “Breakthroughs.”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the product. Find out exactly what it should and should not do for you.
  • Be wary of products that claim to cure a wide variety of illnesses—particularly serious ones.
  • Be aware that testimonials and/or celebrity endorsements are often misleading or not legitimate.
  • Be very careful of products that are marketed as having no side effects.
  • Question products that are advertised as making visits to a physician unnecessary. Always consult your doctor before taking any dietary or nutritional supplement.

Other scams that senior citizens regularly fall victim to:

Fraud Target: Senior Citizens

The FBI’s Common Fraud Schemes webpage provides tips on how you can protect yourself and your family from fraud. It also gives this valuable information on why senior citizens are especially vulnerable to fraud schemes:

  • They are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent      credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
  • People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and  trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
  • Older Americans  are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it  to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think they no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
  • When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists   know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to  investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
  • Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased      cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.

“Get Smart on Scams” Lunch and Learns in Minot, Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks, ND

AARP North Dakota wants to help you learn how to protect yourself and your family from identify theft and fraud. There is no cost to attend their 90 minute  “Lunch and Learn” program, but registration is required. Call 1.877.926.8300 or register online at www.aarp.org/nd. You can learn more about dates, times, locations and the agenda by clicking here.

If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies. You can also:

I must warn you, though, that prevention is a much better bet than trying to recover any losses you, a patient or a loved one might have incurred.

By Marti Lythgoe, Freelance Writer

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