Fleecing seniors: Scammers target the elderly for financial abuse

Published: Sunday, July 15 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Successful scammers flip a victim's emotional switches and overpower logical impulses. One study likens the process to decision-making by a person with a traumatic brain injury, Cole says. Great sorrow is built on targeting twin dreads: fear of nursing homes and fear of poverty.

Scammers know many seniors control a lot of money, but will not want to spend their last years fighting over it. "They want to go out in peace and that opens up a huge opportunity for predators," Cole says.

Most financial abuse happens across the kitchen table, up close and personal, built upon fear, anger and grief. Sometimes, victims are targeted with "educational" lunches.

Fighting back or heading it off

There are solutions and protections, including a new one. Utah officials worked with the Bank of American Fork to create the ability for someone to monitor an account with view-only access.

"We found in Adult Protective Services that most of the exploitation occurs through withdrawals from the bank account," says Gunther. View-only access provides a protective pair of eyes that may spot exploitation.

Both parent and child are protected, she says, if the child is not made a co-signer on a parent's account. She recommends a limited power of attorney with access only to a small account with funds to cover a month's expenses, not the bulk of an individual's wealth.

Gunther tells people not to deed their home. Half of the overall costs of financial exploitation in Utah comes from houses deeded to or somehow stolen by an adult child. A joint checking account is smart "only with a loving spouse." An individual can fill out a payable-upon-death account form at the bank to make money available easily.

A broad power of attorney gives "a lot of power to one person. It's not just unlimited power to everything in a wallet, but to sell the house, the car, the silverware. That's a lot of temptation even for people who are trustworthy," Gunther says.

AARP Washington notes signs someone may be a victim: Constant phone calls from "charities," might mean one has made a "sucker list" scammers sell each other.

Having lots of cheap new stuff could be a hint. Watches, pens and small appliances are common with "order to win" scams.

Payments to unfamiliar companies or frequent bank withdrawals can mean trouble, as can secretive behavior regarding mail and phone calls or not being able to pay bills.

Shadel provided the Deseret News with undercover recordings of actual calls with con artists, accessible through this story online. The approaches range from sympathetic to nasty. In one, a woman tells her mark that it's illegal to hang up during something she calls a "validation process." In another, a woman says an unspecified law was created "by President Bush himself" and the victim must do what she's told. One man calls his mark stupid and says he wants to slap her.

One woman says she has sent a very valuable coin that her target says she doesn't remember ordering. "Well, you ordered it five weeks ago," she says blithely. "And I feel bad that it's taken us so long to get it to you." Still, she says, she needs the credit card information. Or a bank routing number. Or something to complete the fleecing.

Lottery fraud scam

Gold coin scam

Charity scam

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com

Twitter: Loisco

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