Your family and the law: Be on guard against scams unleashed by thieves who prey on the elderly
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on June 22nd, 2010
Behind almost every news event, there seems to always be some scammer who is trying to find tricky ways to steal money from unsuspecting elderly victims.
We read about examples like this almost every day in the newspaper.
Older people get visits at their front doors from someone who says they won a contest and have to pay a fee to collect their prizes.
Or an e-mail will arrive promising riches or describing how to make claims for old, forgotten bank balances.
Maybe it’s a request for money for some organization, like a Gulf of Mexico oil spill relief fund or food for needy children.
The reasons can be compelling and often senior citizens jump in – only to learn later that they are the victims of a heart-breaking and often bank balance-depleting scam at the hands of thieves.
The scary thing is that this isn’t just happening to elderly people in your communities.
It can also happen, or has happened, to elderly members of your own family, from your mother or father to aunts, uncles or grandparents.
But there’s plenty you can do to help prevent and fight these kinds of deceptive practices.
In a MarketWatch News Service story yesterday in The Philadelphia Inquirer, these kinds of scams were described in detail with helpful tips for how you can help protect elderly people from these scenarios.
The statistics are amazing. “More than 7.3 million older Americans – one out of every five citizens over the age of 65 – already have been victimized by a financial swindle, according to a survey released as part of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day” last week, the story said.
To fight this trend, awareness is key.
To do that, more people have to get involved to provide assistance, including helping to oversee money and how their bills are paid, as well as having discussions about questionable payments and services that might be found in their checkbooks, the story said.
One new idea is to get medical professional involved, since they are often seen and trusted by elderly patients who are being treated for medical ailments.
A new program that’s getting underway does just that – as well as helps link intervening medical professionals with government agencies who can help get things back in order after scams, investment fraud and other types of what is being called “financial abuse” aimed at senior citizens, according to the MarketWatch story.
These are great ideas, and a great start, but this also has to start within our family units, too.
We need to each be more aware of these kinds of financial frauds that take huge advantage of our elderly relatives and friends and take pains to talk with them about these kinds of threats to help protect them.
That means helping them by discussing these kinds of frauds with them to make them more aware of some of the scams that are out there, and reminding them not to jump into such arrangements without discussing them with you or an outside resource, such as an attorney.
As our relatives get older and are less analytical about such offers that come in, via e-mail, telephone or even through home visits by a stranger, we need to reassure them that there is nothing wrong with calling us in to ask about such offers and get a second opinion before handing over a check.
New issues come up as we get older, including discussions about giving someone else the power of attorney for legal, medical and business matters, and that can also be part of the discussion when mapping out a strategy to better protect your loved ones.
The FBI offers a long list of tips to help fight this nasty problem.
*Check out unfamiliar companies or organizations.
*Confirm that bills you receive are actually for services that were rendered, and not for fraudulent “ghost” services.
*Don’t do business with door-to-door or telephone salespeople who claim that their services are free.
*Buy online drug prescriptions only from verified vendors, not through unsolicited advertisements.
*Don’t buy something under pressure. If it’s “only available right now,” then walk away.
The FBI fraud list is all-encompassing, from funeral expense scams to anti-aging medical frauds to reverse mortgage scams, all which can cause huge emotional and financial pain for those who can be cheated out of their life savings.
These are often family issues.
You can take the lead and begin these discussions in your own family.
Tell your relatives that you care and want to help them protect themselves from these kinds of financial abuses.
Talk to experts in your area, including your local Office of Aging, mental health professionals, doctors, nurses and other health care workers who assist your elderly relatives and friends on a regular basis.
And be sure to discuss these important issues with an attorney, too, to provide comfort and protection for the people you love.
Prevention is a critical key to keeping your loved ones from becoming victims of these kinds of insidious crimes.
It’s time to have those discussions and plan such strategies now.
Trying to recover stolen money, property and other items is much harder once they are gone.
Just open a newspaper and read some of the sad stories about elderly residents who were scammed out of everything that they had.
Don’t let that kind of heartbreak come to your family.