Elder scams are more prevalent than ever. Help your loved one avoid being duped.
Story: Alexandra Allred
The following is a recent real exchange between a hopeful seller and buyer on Craig’s List. The seller posted a picture of a king-sized bed on the site for $800. Within one day, there was a hit:
Buyer: Hello, I will [sic] like to tell you that the item is OK and I like it, I’m paying with the cashier’s check, and after the check clears at your bank, my movers will contact you for pickup. I’m fine with the price, and if you’re OK with it, let me know asap to proceed by giving me your mailing address, full name, and cell number.
Seller: Sounds good. Let me know when you want to come by. Thanks!
Thus, began a lengthy exchange about bank accounts, cashier checks, and requesting more personal information. The buyer offered multiple reason for not being present to make the purchase—in the middle of a move; rented a storage space; out of the country. More importantly, he continued to refuse offering his own bank information and desperately wanted the seller’s information. Fortunately, this sale never occurred as the seller was too wary, but every day, scammers like this buyer prey on the elderly to make a quick buck.
Targeting senior citizens is such a problem the U.S. Senate has dubbed it a public health concern, and rightfully so. Researchers at the University of Iowa conducted a study that concluded seniors with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (right above the eyes) were more susceptible to scams as this area of the brain controls belief and doubt. While the ventromedial prefrontal cortex naturally deteriorates as we age, what was most interesting was the researchers’ interest in further damage to or near that region of the brain. What they found was significant: their senior subjects were easy prey.
Family members are duped as well, refusing to believe a father, once “such a brilliant man,” or a grandmother who was “a savvy businesswoman,” or an uncle known for frugality could be easily conned out of their life savings.
Look for the signs
• An increase in solicitors’ calls
• Unsolicited mail increased dramatically
• More “friends” you have never heard of talking to your loved one
• Younger, seemingly friendly neighbors dropping by for visits
• Check caller ID to see who is calling and make notations.
• List mail solicitors and remove your loved one from the mailing list.
• Contact your Better Business Bureau, state representative and, if necessary, a lawyer to contact the most aggressive solicitors.
• Call the campaign offices of political figures to remove a loved one’s email, phone, and mailing address from their list.
• Do not be afraid to ask to see any email and internet activity.
Scammers always have preyed on the elderly, but with the rising number of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, it is a preying paradise, no longer just embarrassing or inconvenient. Today’s savvy scammers possess the ability to wipe out entire life savings and bank accounts with the push of one button. Older Americans are too polite and less likely to report fraud even when it happens. Words like “Act now!” and “Offer good while supplies last!” feed a need, especially for those with impaired judgment and compulsive tendencies, a symptom of dementia.
Make a HUGE sign
Telling a person with dementia or impaired judgment what to listen for during a sales pitch does no good. Instead, create a DO NOT list.
• DO NOT give out your name or any personal information. Hang up!
• DO NOT agree to receive any packages. Hang up!
• DO NOT give money to any charity. We will do that personally.
• DO NOT give away credit card or bank information.
• DO NOT accept “free” prizes.
Explain that legitimate businesses and organizations do not randomly call American citizens to offer free advice or services. This is a scam to gain more personal information and maybe a credit card number to destroy life savings.
According to the National Council on Aging and the FBI, the top scams most affecting seniors are:
• Medical and health insurance fraud.
• Phone calls from the “IRS.”
• Phone calls from major software and computer companies.
• Consumer or political surveys.
• Prescription drug offers.
• Cemeteries and funeral homes.
• Anti-aging products.
• Timeshare and investment deals.
• Homeowner and reverse mortgage offers.
• Sweepstakes and/or free prizes.
• Down-on-his-luck-soldier calls.
• The “grandparent” scam.
We are all painfully aware of the rise in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, but we must also pay greater attention to the epidemic of scammers. It is our job to protect our loved ones.
About the writer
Alexandra Allred is an author. Her latest book is “Operation Caregivers: #LifewithDementia.” She has a MS degree in functional movement for the special-needs population. Her experience in senior and memory care comes from a difficult two-year period in which she lost both parents to dementia and thousands of dollars while fighting for their safety and dignity. For more information, visit alexandraallred.com or connect on Facebook and Twitter.