Scams Against the Elderly

Posted by M James on Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

In the US alone, there are almost 15,000 criminal organizations that are trying to scam the elderly. Each year that passes, these thieves and con artists will net more than $40 billion dollars from their victims, and that amount continues to rise. Everyone is susceptible to a scam of some kind, but seven out of ten of these criminal acts will be geared toward senior citizens.

Most men will die long before their wives, and these older women will sometimes have to take care of their finances alone. If the husband dealt with the financial work by himself, these women will be at a high risk for being contacted and scammed by con artists.

Thieves will create highly sophisticated schemes that can reel in educated adults and war veterans in a way that is simply shocking. Criminals will move quickly and try to pull off the scam before a family member can notice that something is wrong. By the time the police have been contacts, the con artists will have moved on to a new victim.

Con men will use many different tricks to get an elderly victim to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars, merchandise, and jewelry. In a few cases they will even trick their victims into handing over their lives and everything in it, via a new power of attorney document. The abuse against the elderly, physical as well as financial, can go on indefinitely, for the victim may be too afraid or embarrassed to alert the police or their family members.

Almost all of the schemes and scams committed have been classified as “transient crimes”. The reason for this description is the fact that they use home repair and diversionary tactics, such as asking a victim to allow them into their home to call a tow truck for their car.

Scams Against the Elderly

Why Are the Elderly Most Susceptible to Fraud?

Elderly victims generally grew up in an era that bred trust. Most of them could have a verbal contract, and trust that the other will hold fast to their word. Baby boomers knew their neighbors, and although it was not a perfect world, most people felt safe.

Senior citizens are also targeted because they might happily begin a relationship with an honest looking stranger when they become lonely. As their kids grow up and move away to create their own families, elder parents may live in a big house that suddenly feels empty.

Memory is another factor for the increase in elderly fraud. As we grow older, our memories may begin to fade or we may simply begin to remember things incorrectly. The American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a study and found that the elderly are ten times more likely create a memory of data that is false, and they will also believe that the information they received is true.

As we age, our bodies will begin to deteriorate over time and diseases such Alzheimer’s and dementia could cause a senior citizen to hand over bags of money without realizing it. These mental diseases can also leave these victims open to new scams and fraud. Consumers assume that con artists work alone, but in most cases they are a part of a larger network. Once one of them has successfully scammed a victim, they will alert another group and new criminals will take the place of the old. Scammers, who work alone, may even contact their previous victims to get more money from new schemes, and some senior citizens have been tricked into handing money over to the same group or criminal repeatedly.

Too much pride can hurt us all, but in an effort to maintain their need to be self reliant, an elderly victim may try to hide that they have emptied their bank accounts into the hands of a criminal. They may also fear that family members will place them in a group home.

What Scams and Schemes Do Con Artists Use?

Shady Telemarketers

Senior citizens have been scammed out of billions of dollars by less than honest telemarketers. There are many different scams and tricks that are used and some phone calls are received from real telemarketers trying to get a commission any way they can, even if it’s illegal and others are fake con artists.

Prize Scams – The con artists will call or send a letter claiming that you have won a prize. However, to receive the prize, you will first need to send in a fee for shipping and handling or to cover any tax that is accrued. You should never give out your credit card or checking account numbers to anyone over the phone and if you really have won a prize, it’s illegal for a company to ask you to pay for it.

Recover Stolen Money – This scam is pulled by the same people who stole your identity and personal information. They will make a phone call asking for a fee so that they can help you to recover any money that was lost or stolen.

Free Medical Card – Some elderly victims have been scammed by crooks that call to offer them a free medical card. All they have to do is give them their checking account number.

Free Cab Ride for the Elderly

A criminal, usually female, will stop at bus terminals or pick up a senior citizen taking a stroll and they will promise them a free ride. By the time the elderly individual exits the car, the thief will have stolen their wallet or purse. Once inside the car, other con artists will drive around the neighborhood, forcing the senior citizen to make withdrawals at different banks. Family members should remind the senior citizens in their lives to never get into a car with a stranger, even if they are female.

Home Repair/Improvement Scam

Another billion dollar scam involves tricking the elderly into paying for home repair work that they may not need. Sometimes a con artist will knock on the door offering paving work and they will claim that everyone else in the neighborhood have signed up to get their driveways and sidewalks paved, in an attempt to pressure elderly victims into agreeing. Once a check is written, the thieves will get away with the money or they will provide the unnecessary work that will be subpar.

They may also call or come knocking to say that the roof needs to be replaced, or they will trick a victim by claiming that they were the construction company for the previous home owners and that the house is still under contract.

In many home repair scams, con artists will have to move quickly if they want to avoid friends or family members of their elderly victims. They will proceed with high pressure tactics to get them to agree. Potential victims should let them know that they will think about it, and speak to friends and family before making a decision. This answer has scared away many home repair criminals.

Psychics and Miracle Cures

These less than honest conmen will convince an elderly victim that their deceased family member or friend is reaching out to them from beyond the grave. They are willing to give them the message for a “small” fee that will eventually add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars before the police or family members put a stop to the crime. Even after that, some senior citizens will still believe in their “magic”.

Elderly citizens who may be in poor health are highly susceptible to miracle cure sellers. They will pretend that they have a tonic that can cure everything from arthritis to cancer and they will lure their victims into believing that they will be cured if they pay up. Eventually, the victims will be tricked into buying thousands of dollars worth of different fake medicines.

Diversionary Tactics

Senior citizens are highly susceptible to diversions and con artists will frequently use them. They will knock at the door asking for a glass of water, help with a broken car, or a request to make a phone call. Elderly victims should not allow anyone into their homes, because once inside, they can easily be over powered.

Thieves will let them go to the kitchen for a beverage, while they quickly attempt to steal cash, jewelry, purses and small equipment. Many con artists will use females or young people to make their victims feel safe in allowing them into their homes.

Who Are the Scammers?

While we often look over our shoulders to make sure that we are not the victims to criminal stranger, the sad truth is that 60% of all financial crimes against senior citizens are done by their adult children, according to the The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study. Second on the list are in home providers.

Other scammers include the fake and sometimes real telemarketers, false lottery sellers and strangers on the street. Victims can also be tricked into opening their doors for cable, electricity and phone repair men.

How to Prevent Elderly Scams

Many of the scams and tricks that are used can be prevented by having family members, friends and neighbors keep an eye on the elderly in your lives. Close contact can help fight the loneliness that many will feel after the death of a spouse or adult children who no longer lives at home.

When hiring a caregiver to watch over senior citizens, you should give them a thorough background search and check any references that they should provide. If someone has financial problems in their past, it may be appropriate to pass them over for another nurse or worker. Those problems could be innocent but they may also be signs of a worker who may steal money from their patient’s accounts.

Pay attention to your loved one and check to see if there have been any changes in their behavior. Some elderly victims may be too afraid to speak up against a care taker who are abusing them and others who have a mental disease will not be able to make or complaint or defend themselves.

Let an elderly family member know that they should not open the door for any “repair men” unless they have personally called the company to make the appointment themselves.

If they receive any phone calls from individuals claiming that they work at a bank or another company that they are a member of, tell them to hang up and call the company themselves to make sure that it is not a scammer on the other end of the phone.

Any phone calls claiming to provide great financial opportunities and prizes should met with a message alerting the caller that they will talk to a friend and family member and call them back. Elderly parents can also tell the caller that they are good friends with a law enforcement officer or a lawyer and that they will talk to them first. Most thieves will run the other way.

The best way to prevent crimes against the elderly is through education. Sign them up for free classes for senior citizens. These classes can be found for free through a police department, the AARP and special elderly organizations.

Victims Stories

Fake Lottery Scam

An elderly man in Illinois found that his pockets were $3,500 lighter after he was scammed with a fake foreign lottery. The man only found out that he was tricked, after he asked law enforcement to provide security because he would be receiving $3.5 millions dollars, delivered in a Brinks truck.

The scam, from a company called Global Lottery, will ask a victim to pay fees and shipping to receive their multi-million dollar award prizes. The scam began with a series of phone calls and once traced by the police, they led to various phone numbers in Jamaica. The victim was also unaware that it is illegal to play lottery games on the phone or internet from other countries.

Foreclosure Scam

A foreclosure scam, usually targeted towards the elderly in Florida, involved many con artists including a lawyer known as Terrence Rosenburg. The four dishonest individuals managed to trick a number of homeowners into thinking that they would receive money from a surplus foreclosure fund to save their homes. The thieves filed paperwork, and then they kept the money for themselves.

One very unfortunate victim of this home owner scam, found themselves homeless after she was evicted due to the scam. She would pay a fee to the lawyer and his friends, and they would help her find a new home using the surplus fund, but like the other victims, Rosenburg walked away with her “fee” and the money.

Dating Scam

Tiffany Ann Grey and Katy Sterio are two young con women who made money scamming elderly males. The pair would meet an elderly gentleman in a parking lot and they would convince him that they were new in town. Eventually, they would trick the men into slowly handing over their money through a series of high priced gifts such as a new car.

The pair received an $11,500 Cartier watch, two brand new cars and from one victim alone they walked away with $40,000 in cash and prizes. Due to the embarrassment of falling for scams, some victims will choose not to contact the police and in this case, law enforcement feels that their may have been other elderly men who have not come forward.

Identity Theft

Irene Silverman was a rich 82 year woman who lived in a mansion in the affluent Upper East Side in Manhattan, NY. To fight off the loneliness of living by herself in that large mansion, she decided to rent out the rooms, turning each of the five floors into their own apartments.

She thought that she would be safe because although she was rich and did not need to work, she was charging $6,000 every week from each tenant, so supposedly only the rich and famous should be able to afford a stay in her mansion.

Unfortunately for Irene Silverman, she eventually met Kenneth and Sante Kimes. This pair were both devious and very professional criminals who knew how to work a con, and they saw gold when they found Silverman.

In one of the worst scam crimes against a senior citizen, the Kimes decided that instead of stealing from Irene Silverman, they would simply take over all of her assets and her identity. In 1998 on July 5, the Kimes murdered Silverman, got rid of her body and created false paperwork that would allow them to inherit everything that she owned.

They were eventually arrested, found guilty and sent to prison, but her life was cut short by a pair of scammers because everyone thought that she would be safe. Regardless of your neighborhood, their will be a con man waiting for the chance to cheat you out of money or your life.

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