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Scams, Fraud and the Elderly


It is extremely unfortunate that there are groups of people who prey upon senior citizens. These unscrupulous people worm their way into the lives of the elderly and pretend to become their friends.

These scam artists are particularly effective with lonely senior citizens who live by themselves. Their grown children no longer live nearby, many of their friends and relatives have passed away leaving them with a huge emotional gap in their lives.

Harmless Sweepstakes for Elderly Victims

Sometimes the beginning stages are as harmless as completing and mailing sweepstake entries. With the promise of winning a free vacation, a car or even money, the elderly provide personal information to these organizations hoping to win something.

What they don’t realize, however, is that many of these organizations are not actually affiliated with the companies they claim to represent. Some of them actually say so in fine print on the bottom of the backside of the sweepstake entry. Unfortunately, most victims don’t bother to read the fine print.

As time goes on, some entries require a small “processing fee.” Over time the fee becomes larger. Unwittingly, some elderly victims provide phone numbers and just enough information to enable the scam artist to ‘befriend’ the victim. This is especially easy to do if the victim is lonely and in need of companionship.

Scammers Employ Devious Tactics

Once the victim has repeatedly sent money and shared personal information, the scammers know they have an easy target. At this point some scammers mail a bogus check as an ‘advance’ on the victim’s winnings. All the victim has to do is cash the check and wire the processing fee (which is a large dollar amount) back to the sender.

Fortunately, some banks are able to detect bogus checks immediately. The less fortunate deposit the check, wire the ‘processing fee’ only to later find out the check was bogus. Now the victim not only has to cover the check, but is out the processing fee that was wired to the scammers. Additionally, the victim may face criminal charges for cashing a bogus check.

The scam artists are difficult to catch because the money is usually wired to another country, thus making it nearly impossible to track.

How to Know if Your Loved One is Being Scammed

Don’t expect the victim to call you on the phone and say “I’ve been scammed.” It’s never that easy. You’ll have to look for signs and get involved. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Visit the elderly and spend an extended amount of time in the house to get a feel for what is going on. Scammers are relentless once thy have a victim. The phone will ring often. Listen in on the conversations.
  • Look through the mail. If you see a lot of junk mail with wording like “You have won!” or “Congratulations You’re a Winner” or other such scams, there is good chance the victim is in over her head.
  • Monitor the bank accounts. Scammers don’t take checks. Look for withdrawals and money order receipts or wire transfer receipts. Look at the monthly balance to see if the expenditures are normal.
  • Talk to neighbors if possible. Sometimes the victim will often talk about coming into a lot of money or winning an expensive gift. The gifts or money never materialize, but the victim believes they will.
  • Find out if your loved one has borrowed money. Sometimes when the entire retirement account has been squandered away, some victims resort to refinancing their home or borrowing money from friends and relatives to send to the scammers.

If you find that your loved one has been a victim of a scam, as emotional as it might be, it’s not the end of the world. It’s better to find out sooner than later. Here are a few things you must do to put an end to the fraud:

  • Change the phone number to stop the calls. Once you change the phone number, register the number with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry.
  • Return all junk mail or sweepstake mail. When such mail arrives write, “Forward to Postal Inspector – Suspected Mail Fraud” on the envelope and return it to the post office. There’s no charge for returning the envelope. If your loved one lives far away and is unable to return the mail, have the mail forwarded to you or to a P.O. Box where you can check the mail to see what comes in. This way you can monitor the junk and the bills.
  • Change bank accounts and/or social security numbers if either were compromised. Changing bank accounts is easy, changing a social security number is a little more involved.

Elderly Scam Prevention is the Best Remedy

The most difficult aspect of this entire process is convincing the elderly victim that they have been scammed. No matter how many times you change the phone number, bank accounts or forward the mail, if the victim doesn’t believe she was a victim of a scam, she will open the doors again and allow the scammers back in. If this happens, you’re stuck going through the process all over again.

Sometimes it’s as simple as spending more time with the victim to fill the emotional void so easily detected by the scammers. Other times the situation is more severe which may require a change in living arrangements or professional help.

For more information on how to handle fraud and the elderly, contact your state’s Department of Consumer Affairs. Additionally, review a few of the links listed below:

Elder Fraud Leaders Guide
AARP Fraud Fighters
Fraud That Targets the Elderly

About the author: Felicia A. Williams is a former insurance broker who is now a freelance writer.

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