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Senior Fraud on the Rise as Baby Boomers Age

For Immediate Release March 19, 2007  ANNANDALE, VA – Six of his clients are retired military colonels and all six were targets of fraud after their wives died. None thinks it’s a coincidence.
“It’s almost as if retired military officers are being actively targeted,” said Jason Sager, owner of Home Instead Senior Care in Annandale.
One of the colonels told Sager that as soon as his wife’s obituary was printed, the phone started ringing.
“When cons see ‘survived by colonel’ they assume the survivor is wealthy,” said Sager. "All of them have had to change their phone numbers.”
Cons have it easier than ever now as the population of their most vulnerable target market – the elderly – grows. Many seniors are lonely and trusting, and sometimes
disoriented, which makes them more susceptible to slick talkers out to make quick cash.
Such was the case of a 78-year old Springfield woman suffering from dementia, who was sold a car she would never drive.
Unhappy that her driver’s license had been suspended following three accidents and that her son had taken her car, she called a nearby auto dealer about purchasing a vehicle. A sales representative arranged for the woman and her 91-year-old husband to be transported to the car lot where they were sold an automobile for $5,000 above the $16,000 sticker price. Because her hands were shaking, the salesman actually wrote the check for her.
Home Instead Senior Care caregivers, who were hired to visit the couple regularly, called relatives to alert them of the suspicious purchase. Sager’s firm and the couple’s family forced the dealership to return the car for a full refund.
“We were disgusted that someone could take advantage of this wonderful couple, but it happens all the time,” said Sager. “Having someone to look out for the elderly can be an important deterrent and help prevent devastating consequences.”
Earlier, the same couple also was duped by an unscrupulous lawn service that billed them $980 several times. The elderly pair paid again and again to the tune of $17,000. That’s when the family stepped in and hired caregivers.
While con games have changed with the times, the practice of defrauding consumers of all ages is nothing new. When the target is a senior, however, the stakes have never been higher, say senior care experts. Senior scams are costing older adults their life savings, their homes, and even their lives.
From lottery and sweepstakes scams and investment fraud to home improvement
schemes, seniors often are sitting ducks for a criminal looking to make fast cash. According to 2005 statistics from the National Fraud Information Center, nearly one quarter of all telemarketing scam complaints were logged by those over the age of 70, which represents the highest percentage of any demographic group that year.
What makes older adults so vulnerable to tricksters, scammers, and con criminals? It appears that physical and psychological needs are at the heart of this issue, according to research and anecdotes from senior experts.
“Seniors often worry they will outlive their money and are concerned that they might not be able to continue to live the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed,” said Sager.
Research confirms that criminals may cater to these types of worries. A recent report from the Consumer Fraud Research Group for WISE Senior Services and NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers) Investor Education Foundation, revealed that fraud pitches are tailored to meet the psychological needs of a potential senior victim.
Audiotapes of pitches showed that the con criminal will use one kind of appeal for the lottery fraud victim that may prey on the fact that person is a widow and feels deprived in life, according to the report. But con criminals will use a different kind of pitch for the investment fraud victim who is more likely to be male, self-reliant, and knowledgeable about finances.
“If a con criminal can call seniors and get them to give up their Social Security numbers, they can create any type of transaction,” said Edward Hutchison, program
director of the National Association of Triads, Inc., an 18-year-old organization that is
part of the National Sheriffs’ Association and educates communities on senior safety.
“Within the last three years, we’ve been focusing predominately on senior fraud, scams, and elder abuse,” Hutchison said.
“We’ve seen how individuals have taken out mortgages on seniors’ homes and who have filed quitclaim deeds on property and taken over to remove seniors from their homes,” he said. “Or they open up joint checking accounts with the criminal’s and senior’s name.”
One 81-year-old woman who was caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s disease paid a criminal $800,000 and drained her savings for home repairs that were never completed, he said.
What’s worse, seniors can get on a “sucker’s list” where they continue to be the victims of unscrupulous people. And that can result in legal issues that may outlive the
Senior, he said.
Fraud can affect life expectancy as well. A Journal of the American Medical Association study showed that victims of elder mistreatment, including exploitation, have a mortality rate three times higher than non-victims.
When con criminals infiltrate, tragedy can result for a senior who is often just
looking out for the best interests of his or her family. And that consequence can be the biggest crime of all.
“Most seniors just want to leave a legacy to their children and grandchildren,” Hutchison said. “Criminals prevent some from doing just that.”
To arrange interviews with local sources about this topic, contact Jason Sager at 703-750-6644.
For interviews with Ed Hutchison, contact Georgene Lahm at pr@glahm.com.
For additional information about the study “Off the Hook Again: Understanding Why the Elderly Are Victimized by Economic Fraud Crimes,” log on to http://www.nasdfoundation.org/research.asp.
Or, for more information about Home Instead Senior Care, log on to www.homeinstead.com.
Top Five Senior Scams
Following are the top five senior scams provided by the National Association of Triads, Inc., an 18-year-old organization that is part of the National Sheriffs’ Association, and Home Instead Senior Care:
Prizes and sweepstakes scams. Seniors are told they’ve won a sweepstakes and asked to send a check to cover the taxes. Or, they receive a fake check for $5,000 and are encouraged to deposit the money and send back $2,000 to cover the taxes. By the time it’s determined that these checks, which often come from an overseas bank, are worthless, the senior has lost his or her money. Magazine sale scams, where seniors order fraudulent magazine subscriptions, also are prevalent.
Home improvement frauds. Criminals knock on a senior’s door offering to fix the driveway, then paint it black and charge $3,000. Or seniors are asked to pay up front for roof repairs but never see the alleged repairman again.
Phishing schemes. Seniors receive a call from someone claming to represent a bank or other reputable financial institution. They’re warned that their financial information or credit card has been compromised and are asked to verify their bank account number or call an 800 number where they’re asked for their personal financial information.
Internet fraud. Seniors, unfamiliar with how to use the Internet, can unwittingly give their credit card number to a scammer.
Identity theft. Seniors who give up their birth date and Social Security number can open up their entire financial history to a thief.
What You Can Do To Protect Seniors
Following, from the National Association of Triads, Inc. and Home Instead Senior Care, are ways that family caregivers can protect their senior loved ones:
1. Watch for unusual activity. Seniors who are scammed may be embarrassed and try to hide what happened. Watch for changes in their lifestyle as well as any other unusual financial or business activity.
2. Be on guard for individuals who have befriended your loved one. Lonely or isolated seniors may be vulnerable to con criminals who befriend them and provide them with companionship. Ask to talk to your parent’s new friend to find out more about him or her. A thief won’t stick around long to chat.
3. Investigate organizations looking for money. Often seniors want to donate to organizations and other worthy causes. Help your loved ones by requesting written information on the organization and reviewing it thoroughly, or contact the Better Business Bureau.
4. Assist seniors with their finances. If a senior can no longer handle his or her finances, encourage your loved one to put a plan in place that can help ensure bills are paid and his or her assets are protected. That plan may include your senior designating a financial power of attorney.
5. Destroy information that could be compromised. Make sure your senior shreds all financial information and credit card offers before discarding them in the trash.
6. Seek out a second set of eyes. If you live a distance from your loved one or can’t always be there, help your senior build a support network. This can include neighbors, friends, trusted church members or professional care givers like those from Home Instead Senior Care.
Additional Telemarketing and Internet Fraud Tips are available from the National Fraud Information Center at www.fraud.org.