Columns
August 22, 2019
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Navigating the aging journey

Julie Ann Soukoulis
Why are seniors targets for scams?
July 12, 2019

Why are seniors targeted you ask, for many reasons? The annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.9 billion dollars. Let’s examine the ins and outs of why seniors are at risk of scams.

Let’s identify the common themes and risks that make senior prime targets of scams. 

Availability - Seniors are so very available. They are most often retired, less mobile and isolated which makes them prime targets for elder financial abuse and scams.

Loneliness - Loneliness can cause a senior to be vulnerable thus preyed upon.  Seniors’ relationships are often limited.  Something to keep your eye out for is older adults dating websites which have become quite popular.   Scammers create fake profiles on these websites designed for aging adults, the sites themselves even promote them this way- for those who are retired and in the later phase of life who also happen to be well established financially. This makes the older Americans using these sites perfect targets unknowingly. Once somebody identifies a senior online as a potential victim, they build slow trust with that senior prior to the scam.  I know of a friend’s friend whose aging loved one was a victim of such a scam. It started on one of the dating websites focused on aging adults and once targets- the onsite relationship sped to emails and then phone conversations. Once the younger man builds trust with the mature older lady (his target) he told her of a sob story of a family member who was in a horrific accident and had terrible medical bills. She then sent her “new friend” $10,000 to help with the medical bills. Once the scammer receives the money, he was never heard from again. Not only was this lonely older lady out her $10,000 but she was heartbroken not to mention she lost her sense of trust once she realized she had been scammed by this male suiter.

Bereavement – Have you even noticed when reading someone’s obituary, you have a sense of knowing that person? So have scammers.  The obituary lists a mini biography of the passed person. They name family members, names and often ages of grandchildren. Which feeds the grandparents scam you may have heard about in recent years. All these life details in the obituary can fuel the story the scammer needs to call the grieving spouse, fabricate a story that they knew the deceased and that they are calling to offer support and condolences. Little does the bereaved person realize they’re becoming befriended by a scammer with the intention of them becoming a victim when they are most vulnerable.   

Sickness - Often you identify an older person ‘s home by the unmaintained exterior or overgrown yard. These are easy cons artist targets. They see the condition of the exterior, come to the front door and offer to mow the lawn and make fixes on the house that might be minor  repairs  however they are frightening the older homeowner into believing that they are much bigger fixes and that they needed to be done right away. The senior will pay upfront for materials or pay for the job in full ahead of the work beginning- never ever see that individual come back to do the work. Perhaps when they call the phone number on the front of the business card they were handed by the scammer  it’s a blank voice mail or no answer at all leaving no way to reach out to the individual  and no recourse from the scammed home owner to get their money back.

Cognitive Impairment - Cognitive impairment makes these scams more powerful and the scam even worse. Impaired judgment can make the scammers job very easy. The frontal temporal part of your brain – so if put your finger between your eyes, this part of the brain I am talking about— if it is damaged or injured your judgment can be compromised.  Dementia patients are not the only individuals this can affect. It could be anyone with brain injuries or multiple concussions who can also have impaired judgment and become victims of these such scams. 

Prosperity - Seniors have money. They have been saving their whole lives. They were born of the depression era which made them aggressive savers. This is a definite vulnerability in the eyes of the scammer. Seniors have a supply of wealth and of assets. They have properties, land, homes and excellent credit. They can be approved for credit easily. This reminds me of this old Citibank identity theft commercial where two little old ladies were having tea only  their voices they were talking in  were of two males discussing the new motorcycles they bought and all the money they have been spending that they stole with identity  deft of  these two little old ladies in this case. This commercial brought the attention of cons and scams being used and targeted towards seniors to light.

Polite and trusting - It is not in the senior’s nature to be rude. They want to keep their composure during uncomfortable conversations which makes them have a hard time dismissing people/ scammer. We always say just hang up the phone, but it’s not that easy to someone who was not raised to be ill mannered. Lastly, older Americans are less likely to report because they are ashamed. They may be worried their loved ones will find out and think they are too old to take care of their own money and lose their independence. Or they don’t know who to report to, and often times they don’t even know they have been the victim of a scam.

This is why it is so important that we educate and equip older adults to stay safe from all the scams designed with them in mind. If you are concerned for someone who may be victim of a scam or yourself, contact Adult Protective Services or the police department. There is no shame if you have been a victim of one of these scammers. They are experts in this, and your notifying police or authorities may help others from falling victim too. 

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.