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Scams Against Elders

Seniors are targeted by scam artists and other predators for four main reasons:

  1. More Wealth — Seniors created and own much of the wealth in the United States. Scam artists seek to take the products of these seniors’ efforts. 
  2. More Trusting — Seniors are more likely to trust others and accept statements without verifying the truth.
  3. More Shame — Seniors are often ashamed to report financial abuse or even to admit that they have been exploited. No one wants to admit that his or her cognitive skills have diminished.
  4. More Fear — Seniors are concerned that reporting abuse may expose them to other risks. There is a benefit to reporting abuse. But it can be hard to believe that getting help can save another senior from abuse.  

Tens of billions of dollars are wrongfully taken from the elderly every year[1]  And the vast majority of cases are never reported. Set forth below is a list of some of the more typical financial scams currently perpetrated against the elderly. Just as law enforcement, NGOs and private attorneys are doing what they can to identify and educate the public about these scams, new scams are constantly being developed by the abusers.  And these predators are not necessarily lone wolves. Entire organizations have developed around ripping off the elderly.

Anti-Aging Products

Late night television commercials frequently advertise anti-aging products targeted to elders that claim to be the perfect solution to signs of aging or other unwanted physical changes.

Seniors often feel the need to look younger in order to keep up in social circles or to fill some other void in their life. This leads them to seek out new treatments, medications and other remedies – making them vulnerable to scammers who capitalize on this demand. These scams operate in a variety of ways, including offering very expensive treatments that turn out to be harmful or very expensive homeopathic remedies that actually do nothing except take an elder’s money.

When family members monitor an elder’s finances, they should look for purchases of these types of remedies or treatments and discuss the dangers of these products.

Caregivers, Sweethearts and the “Hard Luck Story” Scams

Many seniors are socially isolated and lonely. Predatory sweethearts or caregivers may prey on the individual’s vulnerability and fear of being alone, or placed in a nursing home. Scammers may also prey on the older adults need to feel needed or their desire to “help out”. They “persuade” the senior to “help out” with car expenses, medical expenses, tuition for the caregiver or sweetheart’s grandchildren, legal expenses, etc. They may also suggest or recommend the purchase of prepaid debit cards or even iTunes cards. Long distance sweethearts may request cash transfers [usually through Western Union or MoneyGram] for transportation costs or “emergencies”.

Counterfeit Prescription Drug Scam

Counterfeit prescription drug scams are attractive because they offer the opportunity to save money on prescription medication expenses.

A large percentage of older adults, especially those with chronic conditions, requires prescription medication. Many are on fixed incomes, struggling to navigate the complex regulations of Medicare Part D and private insurance company restrictions on prescription drug coverage.

Counterfeit prescription drugs are fake medicines produced outside of the pharmacological specifications of the drugs they claim to be. They are dangerous and may result in serious adverse health outcomes or even death because they may be contaminated, contain the wrong ingredients, have the wrong dosage of the right active ingredient or no active ingredient at all.

These scams are often initiated by telephone in “cold calls” or over the internet. Some counterfeit prescription drug scams may also be “advance payment” scams which offer to sell a larger than normal prescription (for example, a 90 vs 30-day supply) at a discounted rate. Victims may be incorrectly advised that their prescription is “up for renewal”.

Funeral and Cemetery Fraud

The tactics used to defraud the elderly in connection with funeral and cemetery fraud are basic but effective including:

  • The funeral home may not disclose the actual prices to the senior,
  • The funeral home or cemetery may pressure the senior to decide now before he or she leaves the premises,
  • The funeral home may fail to tell the senior he or she has the option of buying funeral items from sources other than the same funeral home,
  • The funeral home or cemetery may upsell the senior for additional services, and
  • The funeral home or cemetery may fail to inform the elder that embalming is not required for direct cremations.

The keys the senior avoiding the scam are: (1) calling (or using the internet) and shopping around before showing up in person to ensure the senior has a sense of what is available and what the range of prices should be; (2) carefully reading the contract or having a trusted advisor (including legal counsel) read it for the senior; and (3) understanding the specific about cancelling the contract or transferring its benefits to another funeral home in a different geographic area in the case of a move.

Foreign Currency Scams

According to the FBI, foreign currency scams were one of the top 10 senior scams of 2017.

Scammers target and offer seniors the opportunity to profit from an investment scheme involving the purchase of foreign currencies on the verge of revaluation. [including the Iraqi dinar, Vietnamese dong or Indonesian rupiah]. In the process, victims pay commissions, exchange fees or arbitrage fees to the seller/scammer.

A recent article at Forbes.com [excerpted below] goes into further detail on this type of scam:

The success of the scam is based on a powerful combination of greed, apparent inside information, and the ability to see, feel, and touch the currency…[T]he most compelling part of scam is that …these currencies are legitimate and tangible. Investors can not only hold them, but also show them to their spouse, friends and even fold them up and put them in their wallets. Furthermore, they are part of a regulated industry and available for purchase at a few major US Banks. All factors that seem to make investing in them a very credible and enticing opportunity to outsmart Wall Street, best fellow investors, and get rich quick by uncovering secrets the government doesn’t want us to know.

If you think you’ve been targeted by a scammer, you should contact local law enforcement. In addition, the FBI has set up a website to report the seller of these worthless currencies.

Grandparent Scams

The grandparent scam generally plays out as follows: The scammer calls or emails the elder and says something like: “hi grandma/grandpa, this is your grandson.” Grandparent may reply “is that you, Joey?” Now, the scammer has the grandson’s name, Joey. “Yes, this is Joey.” Then the scammer proceeds with a story about how he or she has been in an accident, his or her car broke down, he or she is stuck in the hospital, stuck in a foreign country or in jail somewhere and needs money to get home and asks the elder to wire the money or overnight the money. The scammer may even say that the lawyer, police officer or other authority will call you later to explain. The phone call usually ends with a plea by the scammer to not tell mom or dad since he or she would get in a lot of trouble. And, then an accomplice may call you posing as the lawyer or police officer.

The key to avoiding this scam is for the senior: (1) to not give out the name of the grandchild; (2) ask the grandchild for his or her full name and date of birth; (3) ask the grandchild questions that require a specific answer that the only the grandchild would know, like the name of any sibling and/or the name of the current family pet; (4) never send the money by wire or some other means that give you no ability to cancel the payment; (5) never send the funds by prepaid credit card or gift card that works like cash; and (6) check with a trusted family member before sending any money.

High-Yield Bank Account Scams

The high-yield bank account scam promises certificates of deposit (CDs) interest rates that are substantially higher than current averages compared to other banks. Since many seniors put their money in CDs to avoid the market risks, they should be especially wary of unsolicited emails and calls that offer outsized interest from financial institutions, including banks and brokerage firms.

The scammers typically use the following “pitch.” In one instance of suspected email fraud, the pitch appeared to come from a large U.S. bank that supposedly was promoting a CD offered by an international banking partner paying 15% yield. This is at a time when most CDs at U.S. banks were offering just over 1% for a comparable term. The fraudulent email contained instructions on how to wire funds.

In another instance of fraud, a scammer posed on the phone as a representative from a legitimate brokerage firm and claimed to offer information about CDs that were well above the best rates in the market. The scammer then tried to gather personal financial information.

Here are some of the red flags to look out for:

  • Interest rates that are significantly higher than average.
  • Emails with addresses that are not originated and sent by the financial institution that is cited in the promotion.
  • Emails that contain misspellings or grammatical errors.
  • Promotions that claim to be from a U.S. financial institution that has aligned with an international bank.
  • Promotions that claim to be for a “limited time only.”
  • Promotions that claim to be directed at “best customers” and that require extremely high minimum investments (for example, $100,000 U.S. Dollars).
International Scams

The international scam is based on a fraudulent investment with unscrupulous foreign investment companies.

An international scam was perpetrated by a company based in the U.K., by luring investors with promises of extremely high yield and no risk investments. This company also used a religious foundation to legitimize their claims and purpose, using bible verses on their website and promotional material.

The internet-based investment company purported to provide short terms loans to individuals and businesses and offered investment opportunities for 180-240 days. The investors were promised “risk-free” daily returns of 1.5-3%. Investors were also offered additional returns for any referrals they brought to the company.

The investors were instructed to wire funds to financial institutions out of the country, in this case to Eastern Europe.

These investments were unregulated by Federal or State authorities and as such were not legal securities. It turned out that the company may not have been making short term loans.

The company is out of business, and the subject of numerous federal, state and international complaints.

A common-sense approach to this type of investment should be utilized. The promises made by the company were unrealistic and “too good to be true.” Investment opportunities should be reviewed with a trusted advisor. Investors should also be extremely cautious about sending any funds out of the U.S.

Informed Delivery Scam

The U.S. Postal Service’s free Informed Delivery service sends users an email every morning with photos of the mail they can expect in the day’s delivery. It’s a convenient option for seniors who may be homebound by weather or physically unable to walk to the mailbox., The USPS reports that more than 6 million people have signed up for Informed Delivery, but they may rethink the decision after a recent warning from the U.S. Secret Service. On November 6, the U.S. Secret Service sent an internal warning that scammers are using the Informed Delivery feature “to identify and intercept mail, and to further their identity theft fraud schemes.” and to identity potential theft victims” on criminal forums.

The alert was sent in the wake of a recent Michigan bust, where seven people were arrested for allegedly stealing credit cards from mailboxes and racking up $400,000 in charges after signing up as those victims at the USPS website. Scammers steal the victims’ mail and identities and apply for credit cards or gift cards. They then sign up for USPS Informed Delivery – and intercept the credit cards or gift cards.

Internet Fraud

Internet frauds are increasingly targeting the elderly and Senior citizens are considered particularly vulnerable to these scams.

  1. A common internet scam is referred to as “Phishing.”

 This scam uses fake emails and websites to obtain personal information from unsuspecting people by email.

The scammer creates an email address that looks official, purportedly from a bank, legitimate business or other website and claims that the user must update or verify their password, banking number and/or other personal identifying information.

The user is then directed to a specified website.  The website is not genuine and set up to deceive the user into providing personal information.

The purpose of this scam is to steal the user’s information.

It is important to know that businesses will not request your personal information by email. 

    2. Another common internet scam is “scareware.” 

This scam begins with a pop-up browser window on the computer screen with a message that the computer is infected with a virus.  The user is prompted to download the anti-virus software provided to remove the virus and solve the problem detected. 

Although the software looks like actual anti-virus software, the software is not legitimate. This will trick the senior into downloading fake anti-virus program (at a cost) or an actual virus that will leave the senior’s personal information vulnerable to the scammers.

A good rule to follow is never to download software from an unfamiliar website

Marriage and Romance Scams

This scam takes many forms, from women seeking marriages to lonely veterans living in nursing homes without family members close by in order to gain access to their military pensions and benefits, to romance or sweetheart scams that may not involve an actual marriage but nevertheless result in the victim giving large sums of money to someone who gains their confidence and trust by offering companionship and professing to love them. Victims of this scam have typically experienced a recent loss, such as a divorce or death of a spouse and may be lonely and depressed. Their adult children may be estranged or geographically or emotionally unavailable during this very vulnerable period.

In a romance scam, the perpetrator intends from the beginning to defraud the victim. The common denominator for victims is that they believe in true love, and they believe they have found it. The scammer feigns an interest in the victim and claims to be interested in meeting the victim but needs cash for transportation or travel costs, medical expenses, etc., etc.

Perpetrators often find their victims online through dating sites or social media. Perpetrators steal photographs and identities in order to present themselves as attractive and available. One expert estimates that at any one time there may be 25,000 fraudsters online with victims. A company that screens profiles for dating companies estimates that 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles it scans every month are bogus.

Victims in the US and Canada have reported losing nearly $1 billion over the last three years – and BBB suspects this is only the tip of the iceberg, as most victims do not file complaints with due to shame and embarrassment. The emotional harm to victims is even more painful and has led some victims to commit suicide.

Caregivers, Confidential Marriages and the Omitted Spouse Doctrine. A variation of the marriage scam may involve a caregiver or family friend who befriends the victim and then marries them. California has a very low threshold requirement of capacity for entering into marriage. Furthermore, California also permits confidential marriage, The victim may have entered into a confidential marriage which is not disclosed until after death. Under California’s Omitted Spouse Doctrine, failing to provide for the new spouse under the decedent’s estate plan gives rise to a legal presumption that the new spouse is entitled to all of the community property, and depending on the number of children, a third to one half of the separate property.

Medicare/Health Insurance Scams

The combination of the inherently complex, confusing and constantly changing health insurance universe with the history of financial fraud targeted at older people creates a perfect storm for Medicare scams, especially during Open Enrollment, when seniors are bombarded by targeted advertising.

Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries across the country report receiving calls from scam operators (frequently with foreign accents), who claim to represent Medicare, Social Security, or an insurance company. These callers claim that new Medicare, Social Security, or supplemental insurance benefits cards are being issued or that the beneficiary’s personal information must be verified or that their file must be updated. The scammer asks the victim to verify or provide their personal banking information.

The caller can be extremely aggressive, calling over and over, and at all times of the day, in an attempt to gain the victim’s trust or wear down the potential victim. In some cases, the scammers may have already obtained some limited personal information from the victim’s internet or social media postings, including the victim’s name, address, or even Social Security number, which the caller then uses to try to make the call seem legitimate. In other cases, the caller may claim that they can improve existing benefits in exchange for a fee.

Medicare scams can include:

  • Telephone or in person requests to verify personal information, provide a social security number, credit card or bank account information;
  • Requests for a “processing fee” in connection with the issuance of a temporary or new Medicare card, often requesting an immediate credit card payment. [There is no charge for the new Medicare cards which will automatically be mailed to all existing Medicare beneficiaries between April 2018 and April 2019. Existing Medicare cards can be used until December 31, 2019];
  • Offers to improve existing benefits in exchange for a fee;
  • Offers to join a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) or risk losing coverage.[ Medicare Part D is voluntary not mandatory];
  • Attempts to have people sign up for Medicare coverage in person or over the phone;
  • Refund offers to Medicare beneficiaries from last year’s care in an attempt to gather their bank account and credit card information; or
  • Offers for alternative, discounted or supplemental coverage that require upfront payment or personal information
“Nigerian” Scams, also known as 419 scams, and other “Advance Payment” Scams

Despite the numerous news stories warning of the dangers of this particular scam, the financial pressures of living on fixed income make many older adults particularly vulnerable to these constantly evolving scams.

The Nigerian or Nigerian prince scam takes its name from an early version of the scam, in which a letter mailed-or emailed- from Nigeria offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a large sum of money about to be transferred out of the country. The number “419” refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud. [There are recent reports of similar offers arising out of Syria, South Africa and other countries with unstable governments. Other popular versions of this scam notify the victim that they have won the Publishers Clearinghouse prize or that are the beneficiaries of a long-lost relative’s estate and that they will receive their winnings/inheritance once they’ve paid the required taxes or fees to the officials in charge of handling these matters.]

Advance Payment scams usually begin with the perpetrator contacting the victim via email or social media using a fake email address or a fake social media account and making an offer that would result in a large payoff to the victim.

Once the victim’s confidence has been gained, the scammer then introduces a financial obstacle that delays or prevents the original deal offer from occurring as planned, such as “To transmit the money, we need to bribe a bank official. Could you help us with a loan?” or “For you to be a party to the transaction, you must have holdings at a Nigerian bank of $100,000 or more” or other similar financial obstacle requiring an advance of the victim’s funds against the larger payoff. The victim willingly transfers the money, usually through an irreversible or untraceable wire transfer service, such as Western Union or MoneyGram.

In all advance-fee fraud operations the promised money transfer to the victim never materializes because the promised money never existed. Scammers rely on the fact that by the time the victim realizes this (often only after being confronted by a third party who recognizes the scam), the victim may have sent thousands of dollars of their own money, and sometimes thousands more that has been borrowed from credit cards, relatives or friends.

During the course of many schemes, scammers may ask victims to supply bank account information. The willingness to supply the account information is often a first step in evaluating the victim’s vulnerability. The bank account information isn’t used directly by the scammer, because a fraudulent withdrawal from the account is more easily detected, reversed, and traced. The bank account information may later be sold to another scammer to be used for other scams.

There are countless variations of this scam, which has been around since the late 1800s. All typically begin with an attempt to build a relationship of confidence and trust- something that may be done more easily today with rapidly changing social norms and the ready acceptance of email and social media platforms as legitimate channels for establishing and continuing meaningful communication with total

strangers. Recent technological advances enable the exploitation of human vulnerabilities. Many victims unwittingly provide their perpetrators with valuable personal information through seemingly innocuous postings on social media or dating sites which reveal names, localities, preferences and aspirations. Scammers use this information to target personal vulnerabilities.

Phone Scams

Every year, thousands of people lose money to telephone scams. Scammers will say anything to cheat people out of money. They may claim to work for a company you trust, or they may send mail or texts, or place ads to convince you to call them.

Scammers use exaggerated — or even fake — prizes, products or services as bait. Here are a few examples of “offers” you might get:

 •    Travel Packages. “Free” or “low cost” vacations can end up cost­ing a bundle in hidden costs. Some of these vacations never take place, even after you’ve paid.

    •    Credit and loans. Advance fee loans, payday loans, credit card protection, and offers to lower your credit card interest rates are very popular schemes, especially during a down economy.

    •    Sham or exaggerated business and investment opportunities. Promoters of these have made millions of dollars. Scammers rely on the fact that business and investing can be complicated and that most people don’t research the investment.

    •    Charitable causes. Urgent requests for recent disaster relief efforts are especially common on the phone.

    •    High-stakes foreign lotteries. These pitches are against the law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail. What’s more, you may never see a ticket.

    •    Extended car warranties. Scammers find out what kind of car you drive, and when you bought it so they can urge you to buy overpriced (or worthless) plans.

    •    “Free” trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products — sometimes lots of products — which can cost you lots of money because they bill you every month until you cancel.

Some Guidelines:

    •    Resist pressure to make a decision immediately.

    •    Keep your credit card, checking account, or Social Security numbers to yourself. Don’t tell them to callers you don’t know — even if they ask you to “confirm” this information. That’s a trick.

    •    Don’t pay for something just because you’ll get a “free gift.”

    •    Get all information in writing before you agree to buy.

    •    Check out a charity before you give. Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. Ask the caller to send you written informa­tion so you can make an informed decision without being pressured, rushed, or guilted into it.

    •    If the offer is an investment, check with your state securities regulator to see if the offer — and the offeror — are properly registered.

    •    Don’t send cash by messenger, overnight mail, or money transfer. If you use cash or a money transfer — rather than a credit card — you may lose your right to dispute fraudulent charges. The money will be gone.

    •    Don’t agree to any offer for which you have to pay a “registration” or “shipping” fee to get a prize or a gift.

    •    Research offers with your consumer protection agency or state Attorney General’s office before you agree to send money.

    •    Beware of offers to “help” you recover money you have already lost. Callers that say they are law enforcement officers who will help you get your money back “for a fee” are scammers.

    •    Report any caller who is rude or abusive, even if you already sent them money. They’ll want more. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit ftc.gov/complaint.

     •   If you don’t want a business to call you again, say so and register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. If they call back, they’re breaking the law.

If you get a call from someone you don’t know who is trying to sell you something you hadn’t planned to buy, say “No thanks.” And, if they pressure you about giving up personal information — like your credit card or Social Security number — it’s likely a scam. Hang up and report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

Prepaid Debit Card Scams

Prepaid debit cards may help you keep debt under control, but they also can make you an unwitting victim of fraud. Before purchasing a prepaid debit card, be aware of the methods criminals are using to rob those who use these cards. The most common scams targeting users of prepaid debit cards and tips for avoiding them are as follows:

1. Deceptive marketing scam: Some fraudulent payday loan companies trick online loan applicants into purchasing prepaid debit cards through their online applications. In late 2011, the Federal Trade Commission order the return of nearly $2 million to consumers who were tricked into buying prepaid debit cards when they applied for payday loans online. Applicants unknowingly were charged fees up to $54.95 per application for unrelated prepaid debit cards with zero balances. How to avoid it: Avoid applying for loans online, and always make sure you get an explanation of every fee you are charged.

2. Utility fraud: Another scam that takes advantage of consumers who are in immediate need of funds targets utility customers who are behind on their bills. Callers claim to represent a person’s utility company, telling them their service is scheduled to be shut off, then advise them to make a payment by purchasing a prepaid debit card. They are then asked to call another phone number where information is obtained from the (prepaid debit) card, and the monetary value is removed from the card. How to avoid it: The best advice is to only purchase a prepaid debit card from a reputable, known business, such as your local bank, particularly in conjunction with your employer. Banks are increasingly getting into the business, partly as a means to broaden their customer base and get the currently unbanked accustomed to banking services, as well as to assist their business customers who want to offer the cards to their employees to help them more efficiently deposit their pay. Most utility companies will not proactively contact customers who are overdue on their bills, and none will ever ask for card information over the phone.

Property Tax Reassessment/Reduction Scam

This scam involves middlemen offering to provide property tax reassessment services for a fee, without disclosing the fact that these services are available to the homeowners for free.

Once again preying on people on fixed incomes desperate for relief, these scammers offer to reduce property taxes in exchange for a “small flat fee”, a percentage of the total projected tax savings, and may also seek a “late filing penalty”. The scammer uses official looking documents or official sounding names of government agencies. The victim receives an “Official Notice” stating that due to declining real estate values, the homeowner is paying too much in property taxes. The Official Notice shows what the “adjusted” property value should be, which is lower than the current assessed value. The Official Notice offers to assist the victim with reducing the property’s assessed value.

The Official Notices neglect to inform homeowners that they are able to file for reassessment themselves for free. Consumers should check with the county assessor’s office to determine if the Official Notice is real before responding. Fake Notices should be reported to the California Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit.

Real Estate Scams

After a natural disaster, fraudulent promoters endeavor to sell damaged buildings or land lots allegedly available at rock bottom prices that can be repaired or developed. Frequently, elders invest their entire savings or retirement accounts only to discover they are on a mortgage list with dozens of others which render the investment worthless, or in many cases the mortgage or land title doesn’t exist.

Repair/Homeowner Scams

Seniors that live alone in their own homes frequently fall prey to “woodchucks” – fake home contractors who gain their confidence and then charge huge amounts of money for unnecessary work.

These con men usually have a nominal level of handyman skills. They start the relationship by offering to do a benign job such as gutter cleaning. Once completed, they “discover” other problems such as a roof leak or chimney repair, and convince seniors to spend thousands of dollars.

Woodchucks also favor targeting people with failing memories. They frequently drive elders to banks to withdraw money or cash checks before disappearing with the funds.

The woodchuck phenomenon is expected to worsen as relatives no longer live geographically close to their family members.

Reverse Mortgage Fraud

The reverse mortgage is a financial product that was designed to help senior citizens. Unfortunately, the scammers are using it as a vehicle to defraud seniors.

The reserve mortgage scammers can use different tactics. The most obvious one involves the perpetrator blatantly misleading the senior borrower who is taking out the loan to steal funds from the targeted senior.

The scammers sometimes use more subtle methods as well. One of the examples is the perpetrator convinces the senior to take out a reverse mortgage loan that is unsuitable.

According to one of the bulletins posted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the two most common scams to steal from seniors are “equity theft” and “foreclosure rescue.” In an equity theft scam, the perpetrator purchases a distressed or an abandoned property. The home is then sold to a senior citizen. The senior then takes out a reverse mortgage after occupying the property for 60 days. Once the reserve mortgage transaction is completed, the perpetrator will steal the proceeds of the loan.

The foreclosure rescue scam situation typically occurs in a depressed real estate market. The perpetrator identifies seniors who are at risk of losing their homes due to foreclosure. The perpetrator then convinces the senior citizen to apply for a reverse mortgage to save the property. The scammer then informs the senior that he or she does not qualify. The senior will then be persuaded to apply for a traditional mortgage, at which point the property and its equity will get transferred to the perpetrator.

Sometimes, the perpetrator uses more subtle deception – the lender or other advisor is not necessarily lying to the senior who is considering a reverse mortgage but pushes the reverse mortgage option knowing that it may not be in the senior’s best financial interest. These deceptive strategies may involve direct mail that uses confusing language and different fraudulent government seals.

In other cases, the fraud occurs when the perpetrator attempts to sell other products that will be paid for by the funds from a reverse mortgage. Unethically companies that sell financial products such as annuities and insurance will sometimes encourage people to use the proceeds of a reverse mortgage to pay for these products.

Here are some helpful tips from the FBI:

• Do not respond to unsolicited advertisements.

• Be suspicious of anyone claiming that you can own a home with no down payment.

• Do not sign anything that you do not fully understand.

• Do not accept payment from individuals for a home you did not purchase.

• Seek out your own reverse mortgage counselor.

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

The scam artists operate this scam out of phone rooms they have set up to run the scam, called boiler rooms. The initial contact is done by mail that reads as though the recipient has won the sweepstakes or lottery. When the recipient calls in, the telemarketer tells the senior that she has won free prizes and all she has to do is send in a small amount of money by wire, by giving a credit card or by overnight mail to claim the prizes. The fee may be misrepresented as covering taxes or customs. The telemarketers are trained to come across as patient and kind, playing on the senior’s sense of loneliness. Once the telemarketers have the senior’s phone number, they repeat the scam, calling her on the phone, telling her that she has won another freeze prize and that she needs to overnight the money to collect it. This pattern may be repeated for days until the senior finally realizes that there are no free prizes or runs out of money.

The key to avoiding this scam is for the senior to understand that “nothing is free” and to throw the sweepstakes or lottery mailer in the trash – it is almost certainly false. Where the senior makes the mistake of calling the number on the mailer just to be certain, the senior should avoid providing any credit card or personal information. If the telemarketer explains that the senior needs to pay a fee to collect the money, the senior can know with certainty it is a scam.

Once the senior gets on the criminals’ list, it is very hard to get off. The criminals regularly trade and sell their lists. Ideally, the senior tells a trust family member or friend about the junk mail she is receiving.

That individual can then report the crime to the U.S. postal inspector at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/contactUs/filecomplaint.aspx

There are also services that can be used to screen junk mail for the senior for a nominal fee. See

www.DMAchoice.org

www.stopthejunkmail.com

www.optoutprescreen.com

Timeshare Scam

Scammers target retirees interested in selling their timeshares and often “cold call” seniors pretending to be, or to represent, potential buyers interested in purchasing or renting the timeshare. Scammers may also find their victims through Craigslist or other internet sites where the senior or retiree lists the timeshare “for sale”.

After initiating contact, scammers send or fax legal looking documents signed by the purported buyers and ask for checks or credit card payments for “closing costs” escrow, title or other processing fees. After the money is received, and after the passage of time makes it difficult or impossible to dispute the credit card or bank charges, the scammers report that the sale “fell through”.

Unpaid Parking Ticket Scam

The unpaid parking ticket scam is a telephone scam where elders are called by one who claims to be from the sheriff’s office, claiming the elder has unpaid parking tickets that require immediate payment. Elders feel compelled to disclose credit card information or purchase prepaid debit cards.

Veterans Administration Pension, Aid & Attendance Benefit Scam

The VA pension and aid and attendance benefits are designed to help low income senior veterans who cannot afford certain basic needs. They are needs-based programs and not an entitlement. Eligible veterans must have very limited income and few countable resources. The program is intended to help only the truly needy.

Unfortunately, scam artists are often unqualified individuals who claim to be experienced financial advisors; they tell trusting seniors that the VA benefit is an entitlement, something they have earned and should be receiving like Medicare or Social Security. The “advisor” for a fee convinces the elder to transfer assets to certain types of trusts or other family members or liquidate the assets and purchase annuities and then apply for the benefits. These transactions may enable you to qualify for the benefit but at the expense of impoverishing yourself. These transactions may also cause the senior to lose other important benefits like Medi-Cal or SSI. The advisor or his accomplice may even offer to give you a lump sum of cash in exchange for your future monthly benefits. This is against the law.

In the end, you may have the assets that you worked a lifetime to build up trapped in high cost annuities that exact heavy penalties for withdrawals. Moreover, if the government determines that you received VA benefits that you were not entitled to, it can even require you to repay those benefits.

Identifying Financial Elder Abuse by Advisors

Many of us need estate, long-term care, or similar planning services.  We seek help from advisors possessing the necessary training and experience.  Most advisors are well-qualified and make fair disclosures of information to their clients.  Unfortunately, there are a growing number of unqualified and dishonest individuals who prey on seniors, portraying themselves as experts to gain the senior’s trust.  These unethical advisors have hidden financial motives, recommend unsuitable products and provide inadequate services. To weed out these unscrupulous advisors and select only competent and honest ones, seniors must recognize and remember the common warning signs of financial elder abuse by a claimed advisor. These warning signs include:

  • Unnatural sense of urgency or other time pressure for making important financial decisions or estate planning decisions.
  • Discussion of the planning in unusual places or at inappropriate times.
  • Suggestions that the senior does not need to consult other trusted persons.
  • Suggestions that the senior change longstanding advisors such as accountants, attorneys, and investment professionals.
  • Attempts to sell other products to the senior such as annuities or life insurance.
  • Suggestions that the senior apply for a loan, including a home equity loan, reverse mortgage or a new credit card.
  • Suggestions that the senior give away assets to qualify for government benefit, including Veteran’s benefits and Medi-Cal or Medicaid benefits.
  • Suggestions that the senior make a personal loan to or go into business with the advisor.
  • Suggestions that the advisor be added as a signer to the senior’s bank account, designated as the one in charge of the senior’s assets or health care if the senior becomes ill, or named as a beneficiary on a retirement account or life insurance policy.
  • Suggestions that the senior leave all of his or her assets on death to a charity recommended by the advisor, eliminating longstanding family members and friends as beneficiaries.
  • Suggestions that the senior send money overseas or out-of-state.
  • Recommendation that the senior invest in a deal that sounds too good to be true, including a high guaranteed rate of return on any investment.
  • Evasiveness, such as failing to respond directly to a reasonable question asked by the senior or the senior’s family members.

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