January 16, 2014

Scamming Seniors: A National Tragedy

We live in a world where fraud and scams are an everyday occurrence. We recently read that Target had 40 million credit and debit card files stolen, then  70 million and we sigh, shake our collective head, figure that's the way it is, and don't give it much more thought since these things are regular occurrences.

A recent article was forwarded to me from the Wall Street Journal. It was an eye-opener. The headline says that one in every five Americans 65 and older has been the victim of a financial scam. Although I can't vouch for the accuracy of the survey, I am sure the percentage of older citizens who have been scammed is shockingly high.

Studies have determined that only about 10% of such crimes are reported, sometimes due to embarrassment, sometimes even being unaware fraud has been committed. Federal authorities usually won't become involved unless the loss is at least $100,000. State or local authorities are overwhelmed and may not have the manpower or resources to help. In addition to the financial disaster scams can cause, there is often an emotional or mental cost, too, as the money and resulting independence slips away.

The National Council on Aging has prepared a list of the 10 scams most often targeted toward seniors:

1. Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud

2. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

3. Funeral & Cemetery Scams.

4. Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products

5. Telemarketing.

6. Internet Fraud

7. Investment Schemes

8. Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams

9. Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams

10. The Grandparent "I need money" Scam 


It is important to be aware of these scams, not only to protect ourselves, but also older relatives who might be in even greater danger. Dementia or memory loss, loneliness, a misplaced desire to be helpful when responding to a phone call requesting information, or a simple unawareness of the presence of so many unscrupulous people leaves seniors vulnerable. The loss of a home, the devastation of financial reserves needed to live, the harassing phone calls or mail......scams and fraud have serious and long lasting effects.

A few years before his death my father-in-law fell for all sorts of foreign lottery scams and unending magazine subscriptions in the hopes of winning a big prize. It wasn't until he went to a nursing home and we could go through his papers that we discovered what had been happening. Luckily, the amount of money lost was probably not much more than $1,000. It could have been much worse. But, we were completely unaware of this "problem."

That experience has prompted me to watch my dad's mail and checking account much more closely. Even though he is naturally suspect of the motives of those he doesn't know, he lives alone and is easily confused. I can't assume he will dodge every attempt to separate him from his money.

It is a shame I even have to  write this post. Dishonesty and preying on the most vulnerable members of our society have become full time employment for too many. We must do are best to make their efforts unproductive.


Note: While not related directly to scams, I was sent the following link that has an excellent graphic look at elderly abuse.

Take a look. Elderly Abuse


    

25 comments:

  1. I can't tell you how many times we've received a phone call from someone who is "calling to arrange for delivery of your in-home alarm system". The very first of these calls, my husband responded that we did not purchase such a system. He was told that it was already paid for, and they were simply calling to arrange for delivery. Yeah right.

    What every happened to the blocked call registry? I'm not sure if this was just NY or if it was national. It worked great when we first signed up years ago, but over the past few years, it seems to have lost its effectiveness.

    My elderly mother is well trained (by me) to never give out any information over the phone. Several years ago she almost got caught in a scam. Someone wanted her SS# and bank account number. Fortunately she knew enough to just hang up. If she gets a call from someone she doesn't know, but thinks it is legitimate, she gets their name and number and gives it to me to check it out. For those with memory problems however, this plan would not necessarily work.

    A few months ago, one of our community churches had a large sum of money that was stolen by the very person who was entrusted to protect it. Understandably, parishioners felt betrayed and violated. Who would steal from a church? The woman responsible was middle-aged, had a prestigious position in her church and in her community. She was the treasurer for the church and this included oversight and management of money that had been bequeathed to the church. So sometimes it's not just the unknown person on the phone or over the internet, it can be someone that you know right in your neighborhood!

    I tend to be a very trusting person, and not at all cynical. However when it comes to money, I've learned to be otherwise. You have to be, in order to protect yourself and your assets.

    It is shameful and criminal to take advantage of anyone, but somehow it seems worse when it is those whom are most vulnerable. Penalties should stiff enough to discourage this type of crime. Other than continued education of the public, and constant vigilance of all, I'm not sure what else we can do to stem the rising tide of this type of crime.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I may be too cynical but I don't think there is much hope of stemming these episodes. For whatever reason, our sense of community and ethical treatment of each other is eroding. All we can do is stay aware and take personal responsibility for protecting ourselves the best we can.

      Delete
    2. There is a national do not call list but I agree that it is generally no longer effective. We also got many calls about the home alarm system thing. I was in the process of reporting them on the "do not call" site and one of the questions was " have you asked them to stop calling you". I was not sure. Most of the time I just hung up. So the next time I asked the name of their company and informed them that we were on the do not call list and asked them to stop calling. And they stopped. Of course, the thing was a scam, but it did work to stop the calls from that one company. The magazine thing infuriates me. We are not taken in by them, but some older people that we know are. I have even written to their corporate offices about it but to no avail. They send a renewal notice a couple of months into the subscription. The stop "scamming seniors" thing is a cause I could get behind... but do not know where to start.

      Delete
    3. The magazine subscription ploy really galls me. I will get a notice that my subscription is just about to run out a full 6 months beforehand. I have developed a system that seems to work. I will place a notice in my tickler file two months before a subscription is actually set to expire. Any notices that come in before that just automatically go into the trash.

      Sometimes when they arrive with a postage paid return envelope I will mail that envelope back to them with a scrawled note that I don't appreciate the unethical approach. So far that has done no good, but at least it costs them postage to pay for the mailing.

      Like you, Judy, I am wondering what I could do to be more proactive in helping with this problem of seniors being taken advantage of. So far, no brainstorms except to use this blog to keep the issue before people's eyes.

      Delete
  2. We think of senior abuse/neglect as "old people" being tied to beds, lying in their own filth and not being fed. While that happens it's not as common as people think.

    The number one senior abuse has always been financial. And even sadder--usually from a family member or somebody entrusted to help the person.

    I don't know what the answer is. I know I'm staunchly independent and when I get old, even if confused and in the early stages of dementia, would probably refuse all help. I hope I learn to accept the right kind of help. and am trying to begin to learn that now. My mother when totally blind would only accept help from my sister and I. That led to big deficits in my life as at a time in life when most people were growing their careers and/or focusing on beginning stages of retirement and some fun, I was totally focused on my mother. This also led to much friction between my sister and I which we are only beginning to resolve 12 years after our mother's death.
    I bring this up as it can easily lead to elder neglect and/or abuse. My father had family drills on everything but this subject. Family and friend neglect can lead to all the problems you noted--that sounds obvious but sadly isn't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The problems of senior care and treatment are serious and can fall into the category of scams if payment for service at a facility is not provided. But, you are correct, at least based on the research I did for this post. Financial vulnerability is much more common. Those most likely to be taken advantage of are those least able to protect themselves.

      The good news is that most scamming attacks can be prevented if someone is closely watching a loved one. Taking over the checkbook and having bills sent to me were two easy steps I have taken for my dad. I also closed all but one of his credit cards and cancelled membership in things that no longer are important to him, like AARP and AAA. He also receives no magazines. All of that means his junk mail is virtually none existent and he is not on anyone's radar for phone calls.

      Delete
  3. We just went through a very frustrating situation involving a magazine distribution company initiating some eight magazine subscriptions on behalf of my sister-in-law, who lives with us. When I began calling to track down where they came from, I had to dig through three layers of companies before getting to the correct one . . . for each of the eight magazines. There was the magazine publisher, then a magazine distribution call center that sent the orders to each publisher, then a magazine telemarketing firm that sent the order to the second company. When I finally got to the 'third' layer, the CSR said they don't keep records of how and when orders are placed. I said, 'Really? So the names and addresses just magically populate themselves in your database with no paper trail whatsoever? In that case, please pass me up to your supervisor." After many, many minutes on hold, the CSR came back and reported that the whole thing was an error on their part. Which I didn't consider worth anything, so I documented everything, and reported all both the second and third layer companies to the Better Business Bureau. They initiated an investigation, and I got written confirmation from both companies that all eight orders had been placed in error, and were ours to keep for free.

    We then promptly changed my sister in law's credit and debit cards, plus her phone number, to ensure she would not be victimized going forward.

    It took hours, and untold levels of stress to get to the bottom of this . . . which I understand we were lucky to get to at all!

    Regarding Do Not Call list - it is still very much in place, but abuse has escalated every year since by unethical marketers. Here is a link to the FTC complaint site, which I use fairly regularly. Even if I don't get any results, it makes me feel better! (The complaint link is in top toolbar): http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/do-not-call-list

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is an amazing and depressing story. These companies count on 99% of the population not having the determination that you showed.

      Delete
  4. I received several threatening sounding notes in the mail from a national magazine, I will not reveal the name but they often have a person of the year, when I let my subscription expire, they kept sending magazines then wanted payment. I ignored them and they went away, finally. I didn't figure it was my responsibility to let them know I wanted to let my subscription expire. As for age, I don't think there is a lock on the elderly being scam victims. As long as people are greedy there are plenty of hucksters out there trying to make a quick buck. Usually, if it sounds "too good to be true" it is too good to be true! In my former employment, I dealt with the public for 20 years and often encountered folks who were scammed, usually their greed was the problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My local newspaper tried the same thing: sending up to two weeks after my subscription was up and then telling me I owed them money when I called to ask why they were still delivering the paper.

      I asked them to show me proof that I had authorized a renewal. Since they couldn't, they told me the bill was "in error" and I would not be billed.

      I also just had a bad experience with a health insurance company. I cancelled the policy with 30 days notice but they took the next month's premium directly from my bank account anyway. After a complaint and a threat to dispute the charge, they have promised to send me a refund check. It is due no later than a week from tomorrow. We will see.

      The problem is once you authorize a company to make automatic withdrawals the bank usually takes the position that the problem is between you and the merchant.

      Delete
  5. Our area is rural and there are loads of folks much older then us. Our current scam is driveway "pavers". They use black paint mixed with sand. Looks great until the first rain.
    My mom has difficulty with people who come in to provide service- like cable companies. She often ends up being "upgraded" at the tune of several hundred bucks. It takes hours to unwind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The paving story is really disappointing. How low will some people stoop because of greed?

      All of these stories makes me think independent living for seniors comes with a huge risk of being taken advantage of. What can we do?

      Delete
    2. I'm not defending those that are preying on seniors but sometimes people bring it on themselves being taken in by a fantastic price. Perhaps having your driveway "paved" at less than half the cost of that company in town who wanted a fortune the last time you had them out for an estimate. Everyone is so price sensitive these days, looking for a "deal" and many scammers depend on that mind set. Sometimes you get what you pay for and that "fantastic price" is no deal at all. The same can be applied to Enron or Bernie Madoff and all the others offering "fantastic" investment returns.

      The up selling to a higher priced cable package or whatever is a practice in almost every business from car servicing to cell phone contracts, house insurance and in-store product warranties – it’s also pretty much expected from any employee that has direct contact with customers at time of purchase. The sales pitch likely does offer some value (at least from reputable companies) but you need to know if it provides value to you, just because it’s a good price doesn’t mean you should buy it. If some people (not just seniors) aren’t quite up to speed on whatever it is then they really need to ask for more information and time to think about it. No reputable company will object to that and if it’s a “one time only offer” then that’s a signal to turn it down.

      Delete
    3. ...while not actually a scam, my telephone/internet service is pushing customers to upgrade their home system/service in order to receive television over the copper wires. And also upgrade to a fiber connection with new in-home equipment. They promise a "same low cost" for 12 months, increasing bandwidth from 150 to 300gigs a month. ((I barely use 30 or 40 gigs as it is)). The emails and USPS mail I've been getting from this company are very misleading, sounding as if I must have this done soon. Peel back the advertising and the infrastructure is just the same but to cost more in the future. I feel this is taking advantage of people, particularly seniors, who are happy and have been for many years with their telephone, television and now internet connections. I'm not a Luddite, but the telecommunications industry is a real racket.

      Delete
    4. You make a valid point, ddavidson. There is an element of personal responsibility and common sense that must come into play in these situations. If it is too good to be true, then it is not something to pursue.

      But, for many seniors, a decline in mental sharpness, a lack of resources to be aware of what is and is not appropriate, and a desire to be helpful and polite puts such folks at extra risk, and those of the ones being targeted.

      The answer is that family members must take the lead in overseeing what that elderly person is buying or considering. The responsibility for protection shifts to someone more able to separate scam from legitimate.

      Delete
    5. Dewey, I am familiar with the "you must act now or...." approach. The 12 months at a locked in low price is the one that always gets my attention. My first move is to see what happens in the 13th month and how long that continues. It is rarely a pretty picture. Sometimes the rate change means that over the life of the contract you'd be paying exactly the same amount if you hadn't jumped at the initial teaser rate.

      My cable provider bombards me with offers to upgrade from my very basic cable package (22 channels) all the time. They just can't believe I could possibly be happy. Amazingly, I am.

      Delete
  6. I was very frustrated with my husband and his siblings when their mother died. Mom had purchased a certificate of deposit for $10,000 from some guy that she barely knew socially. I don't know how he told her it was backed up. Her sister bought one also. When my mother-in-law died this guy was contacted about cashing it in. He took a couple of phone calls then disappeared.

    What upset me was that none of the siblings, middle aged at the time, would report this to the authorities. They let the scam happen and this guy got away with it. I knew there was no chance of getting the money back, but geez, let's at least TRY to get a little justice by prosecuting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so right. Getting the money back or being made whole again is not likely to happen. Then, our job becomes to protect others from the same mistake, or drive the person so far underground he vanishes.

      Delete
  7. The amount of fraud and scams is very frustrating. I recently received a phony power bill from a company that I did not recognize. The amount of the bill was under $25 and I am sure that many folks would have just paid it. When I clicked on a link in the email on "how to reduce energy costs", it took me to a Russian web site. When I tried to report as fraud to the US government internet fraud division, I received a response that the entity receives too many complaints to respond to the person filing the complaint. We must remain vigilant at all times.
    Diane from Long Beach, CA.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Bob, I was so sorry to hear that your work had been appropriated without any attribution (or pay). Sadly, that, too, is becoming a more commonplace occurrence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Linda. I willingly grant permission if someone asks, links back to this blog, and doesn't insert ads. But, there are those out there just looking to make money from someone else's efforts.

      Delete
  9. Drop us a line while near Atlanta. Could be good for a free dinner. Have a great and happy 2014 planning for much travel in 2015.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Rake. My youngest brother lives near Atlanta. He is undergoing treatment for colon cancer. "Hot-Lanta" very well might be on our agenda sooner rather than later.

      Delete
  10. The abuse of of elders is overwhelming. My Grandmother was scammed by someone who said they were a friend of my cousin's and he was in jail in Mexico. Unfortunately, my Grandmother hadn't heard anything from our family and didn't actually no his whereabouts. I also read this article ( http://voices.yahoo.com/respect-elders-12483204.html?cat=12 ) which talked about how many elders don't report abuse either because of embarrassment. I feel like there needs to be more advocacy for our elders out there to help prevent this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No argument from me. Our treatment of the most vulnerable is shameful.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted