The numbers are staggering.
A recent survey by the Investor Protection Trust finds that one out of every five Americans 65 years old or older — or more than 7 million people — have been the victim of a financial scam.
The Washington Post recently told the story of one of those victims, 73-year-old retired Oklahoman Jacquelyn Atchley (http://tinyurl.com/9yjvzl2). Jacquelyn lost $180,000 — her life’s savings — to a Ponzi scheme. She was defrauded by a fellow Oklahoman, who is suspected of bilking 80 investors, many of them elderly, out $6 million.
While we often think of financial scams involving strangers on the other end of a dinnertime phone call or phishing email, the truth is scams like these often originate from those closest to us. Family members are the most likely culprits, followed by caregivers.
Breaking down consumer scams
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has identified some of the most common consumer scams and fraudulent schemes that strip seniors of their financial well-being and dignity (http://tinyurl.com/asjuobj).
Among them are pyramid scams, fraudulent living trusts, identity theft, health fraud, real estate fraud and staged auto collisions.
The best defense against scams is education. When clients are familiar with some of the potential threats — and stories of others who have been victimized — they are more likely to keep their guard up.
The IPT has set up an Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program and says there are certain red flags to look for that indicate a senior is being taken advantage of financially:
- • Social isolation. Seniors who are lonely are more likely to be preyed upon.
- • A loss of ability to do everyday activities, including paying bills. Family members can easily gain control of an elderly family member’s finances when this happens.
- • Caregivers who take money for living necessities and skim money off the bottom.
- • Loss of a spouse. Grieving widows or widowers are targets for schemers who search newspaper obituaries for easy marks.
States’ attorneys general often are aware of ongoing scams and can help if you suspect a client is the victim of fraud.
Where there’s money to be made through scheming and scamming the elderly, there’s someone willing to take it.
As always, we hope this article has helped you and your clients. If you have a specific concern or question, contact our office.
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