Do you have aging family members or friends? According to a MetLife survey, crimes against the elderly skyrocketed in the last year. Seniors lost $3 billion to fraudsters through home repair scams, investment scams, and other pitfalls.
Con artists are particularly fond of elderly widows. The scam is to find those who may be lonely or infirm, and slowly shower them with attention and small gifts in order to gain their confidence.
I've heard of one con man who began befriending an older woman when she simply asked him for directions. By the time he was done, she had given him Power of Attorney over her funds, and he steadily looted her over time for $180,000!
Here's your assignment: If you have elderly friends or relatives, you need to stay involved in their lives. Be nosy! Visit them. To someone who is a shut in, just your presence brings them joy. It may seem dull at times, but never forget, someday you will be in those shoes.
Do you have siblings? Some families find it's a good plan to divide up responsibilities when you have elderly parents -- one kid takes them shopping, another entertains them, and a third handles money issues. Regardless of how it's handled, be aware and be present in the financial lives of your elders.
That can mean being a second signature on a checkbook, or an authorized person on a checking account. Know about the investments they have. Remember, be nosy! You don't want to find out your parents are destitute because you were looking the other way.
Your parents were there to raise you. It's time for you to pay them back.
Below are 7 scams retirees too often fall for from USA TODAY. and I've included my commentary on each one.
1. Lottery scam
PROBLEM: Seniors get a call saying they've won a lottery, but they need to either pay money or divulge sensitive account information to claim the winnings.
With the lottery scams, a senior's savings are not eroded all at once. Once they take the bait initially and send some money in, they're put on the sucker list. That marks them to receive future calls or solicitations about other alleged lottery winnings. It's known as a "reload scam," and it can play out in areas other than just fake lottery winnings.
My mother even fell victim to a reload scam involving phony charities about a decade ago. After her initial misjudgment in giving a bogus charity some money, she started receiving literally hundreds of solicitations from others in the mail every week.
SOLUTION: In my family, we are 4 siblings with a 90-year-old mom who has dementia. So we've divided up duties. As you might expect, I handle money stuff for her. Have you set up a plan like this in your family? You've got to be ready to parcel out duties among family as a parent's capacity diminishes.
2. Grandparent scam
PROBLEM: Crooks call senior citizens and impersonate their adult grandchildren in order to hit them up for money. Here's how a typical conversation might go:
The phone rings and the senior picks up...
Scamster: (in a low tone) Grandma?
Senior: Is that you, Jimmy?
Scamster: Yes, it's me and I'm in trouble. I'm in jail. I need you to wire money so I can get out.
The typical take on this scam is anywhere between $3,000 and $4,000. There's even a "reload" on this one. If the scamster gets money, they'll have another person call up impersonating a police officer and ask for additional funds in order for their grandchild to be released. They claim there are extra charges for property damage. Once the money is taken, you'll never see it again.
SOLUTION: Never give out personal info over the phone or send money to unknown sources through a wire service.
3. Cash fraud
PROBLEM: Our loved ones in nursing homes generally have house account money in their name. The homes have a fiduciary duty to use it if your loved ones need a prescription filled or whatever it is that would otherwise be unreimbursed by Medicare or Medicaid.
Unfortunately, nursing homes do not have good security on patient trust funds. All over America, dishonest employees have stolen from small amounts to more than $100,000 from trust funds in nursing homes.
This is a fast-growing problem. Over the last 3 years, 1,500 nursing homes around the country (out of 16,000) have been cited for failing to protect trust funds from theft. That means 1 out 10 elders could be impacted by this. Meanwhile, there have only been 100+ prosecutions of the perpetrators. So this is a crime generally without punishment.
SOLUTION: If you are an adult child of a parent in a facility, you need to follow the money. Check their personal needs account frequently to make sure the money is properly accounted for and none of it is missing.
4. Technology scam
PROBLEM: Microsoft has put out a special consumer alert to warn about bogus computer security engineers making cold calls to convince people their computers are at risk for a security threat.
The phonies offer a free security check over the phone in an effort to get you to give them remote access to your computer for a supposed diagnosis and fix. Once they have remote access, they will download software to your computer that basically allows them to steal money from your accounts.
A Microsoft survey conducted in the English-speaking world (this is not just limited to the United States) found that 15% of people have gotten a call from these scammers at one time or another.
Eight in 10 of those who allowed remote access of their computers had money stolen. One in five became identity theft victims. Finally, more than half of all people who allowed remote access got hit with viruses that fouled up their computers. Very often, the cost of repair was greater than the money stolen.
SOLUTION: Microsoft offers a few recommendations to stay out of harm's way. First, be suspicious of unsolicited calls from supposed computer security experts. Second, don't visit any sites or install software recommended by unsolicited callers.
5. Timeshare scam
PROBLEM: Buying a timeshare is bad enough of a rip-off. But imagined getting ripped off twice or three times by crooks promising to help you resell your timeshare!
The crooks typically ask for money upfront for advertising, title searches, and other administrative fees. You may even be told you'll get your money back if your timeshare isn't sold in 90 days. That's a big, fat lie. You won't get anything back except a lighter wallet.
SOLUTION: Here's the real truth. Anyone promising you more than a few pennies on the dollar of what you paid is lying. Remember, salespeople should receive commissions at the time of the sale, not a second before.
6. Homeowner scam
PROBLEM: Seniors who live alone in their own homes are cautioned to be wary of "woodchucks" -- fake home contractors who gain their confidence and then charge huge amounts of money for unnecessary work.
These con men usually have some level of handyman skills and will start the relationship by offering to do a benign job such as gutter cleaning. But after they finish that job, they'll find other imaginary problems -- such as a roof or chimney repair -- and convince seniors to fork over thousands of dollars.
Woodchucks also love to target people who have failing memories. In some of their most disgusting offenses, they'll even drive old women to banks and get them to cash bogus checks before disappearing with the funds.
Police expect the woodchuck phenomenon to worsen. After all, we're an aging population and we no longer live geographically close to our families as we did a few generations ago.
SOLUTION: Pick up the phone and call your aging relatives -- or go visit them -- to make sure they're not falling prey to woodchucks. Be nosy if you're worried that their money may be in danger. With a parent, there'll be a natural inclination for them to not want to talk to you about money. But you've got to be pushy.
7. Medical scam
PROBLEM: Scamsters have targeted seniors for numerous rip-offs surrounding the Affordable Care Act. Here's a look at Obamacare scams to watch out for. Many are operating by door-to-door and phone solicitation, according to The New York Times.
- Being told you need a new Medicare card and have to divulge your Social Security number.
- Being told you need new supplemental policies.
- Being asked to pay a $100 fee for help navigating the new Obamacare landscape.
SOLUTION: When in doubt, just hang up the phone or shut the door on the person trying to get money from you.
Read more: Women 50+ targeted by online dating scammers
BONUS: Funds/Securities financial exploitation
PROBLEM: The investment accounts of seniors are being targeted at an alarming rate. For the longest time, brokers were required to execute transactions even if they believed a senior may be being taken advantage of.
SOLUTION: After piecemeal efforts in 3 states, FINRA is considering new rules that would allow brokerages across the 50 states to put a stop when they feel an older investor is about to get cleaned out by crooks.
Where to report abuse
Here are some resources from Consumer Reports that you can use to report abuse:
- AARP’s scams and fraud page offers information on the latest frauds against older people.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans receives and investigates consumer fraud complaints specifically related to mortgages, credit cards, banks, loans, and more.
- The Federal Trade Commission's Complaint Assistant (877-382-4357) allows seniors to file a complaint in English or Spanish.
- The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s StopFraud.gov is a first stop when reporting a scam. The site also has numerous resources for seniors and family members.
- The National Adult Protective Services Association has a national map with links to abuse-reporting hotlines by state.
- The National Center on Elder Abuse has state directories of help lines and elder-abuse-prevention resources in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
- The Senate Special Committee on Aging (855-303-9470) can refer victims and families to resources for assistance.