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