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How Scams Affect the Elderly and What You Can Do To Protect Them

There’s one part of the credit picture that we tend to not think of, and that is the elderly. There seems to be this belief that debt doesn’t happen after age 65. However, that is not the case. Even if many seniors have managed to pay off their mortgages and car payment by their golden years, they still have medical expenses, and some also have credit card debt.

In a recent study conducted by the Census Bureau, the key findings were that the number of seniors living in poverty was higher than previously estimated, with some states having as many as 26 percent of seniors living in poverty.

There are a variety of reasons for these increased rates including seniors running out of savings and having to rely solely on social security, or a combination of social security and low-wage jobs. Another reason that many seniors may be losing their funds is the increase in scams targeting the elderly.

Scams Targeting the Elderly

Scams can affect the elderly from any walk of life, with the same devastating consequences. Worse yet, many seniors don’t report the scams, and hide their losses out of fear or embarrassment. And then there’s the mental aspect: if the person has dementia, they may have trouble understanding or articulating what is happening because they are confused. As their savings dwindle, they start having trouble paying their bills, which can affect their credit rating. Their families might not even know something is wrong until it’s too late and mom is facing foreclosure or eviction, or utilities have been shut off.

Gloria X’s family did not realize there was a problem until the elderly woman asked her granddaughter to be present when a stranger was came by and delivered her ‘winnings’. The granddaughter got suspicious and called the police. In the wake of that incident, it was discovered that over the course of months the Gloria had almost decimated her savings, wiring thousands of dollars to con artists in a fake lottery scam.

There are several different scams that target the elderly, including:

  • The grandchild scam usually involves the con artist posing as a grandchild in trouble abroad who needs the grandparent to wire them money.
  • The lottery scam usually involves the con artist sending information that the target has won money in a lottery and needs to pay fees to get the funds.
  • The government scam. The caller pretends to be from a government agency, like the IRS, and is demanding payment to avoid arrest or something else equally unpleasant.

So what do you do if your elderly loved one has been the victim of a scam artist?

Avoid Blame

Many of these scams may seem ridiculous. For example, a grandparent should know his grandchild’s voice, and be aware of whether or not the child is abroad, but if family relations are strained, it might not be unusual an estranged grandchild to call on a grandparent for help instead of calling his own parents. Shows like Intervention are full of family dynamics like that. And, of course, there are millions of elderly adults in the early stages of dementia who are easily confused and otherwise more prone to falling for scams.

It would be easy to chalk it up to simple stupidity, or greed, but it is often much more complicated than that. What your elderly relative needs at this point is help and understanding, not blame.

Sever Ties

If the scam is still happening, you need to separate your parent from the con artist. If the bulk of the communication is happening by mail and phone, change the phone number and make sure there is no forwarding message from the phone company. You also need to make sure that the phone number is private and does not show up on caller ID.

When it comes to the mail, try to get your elderly family member to agree to have all his mail forwarded to a PO Box, or to your address, so that you can review it and get rid of any scam letters before he sees them.

If the scam is occurring through email, delete the email account, or set up mail forwarding so all the messages go to a different box where you can review them and delete the scam emails.

Damage Control

Check your elderly family member’s finances to see how badly they have been damaged by the scam. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to get any of the money back, but you can stop the bleeding. If necessary, you might need to look into a credit repair service, or even bankruptcy, to undo some of the damage to her credit rating. You can find credit repair professionals in a variety of places including online and in the phone book. Social media is also a powerful tool these days. Lexington Law uses social media accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Pinterest to communicate with consumers about credit issues.

Report the Scam

Unfortunately, there is still not much local law enforcement can do in the event of a scam – especially since many of them are not located outside of the US and Canada.

However, you can report the scam to the FTC, StopFraud.gov, or the Internet Crime and Complaint Center. You can also make the scam known to people in your social circle, such as your church, your other family members. The goal is not to shame the person who has been scammed, or air your dirty laundry in public, but to make people aware of what’s out there so they can avoid falling victim themselves, or stop a scam in progress.

Get Professional Help

The success of much of this relies on the victim being willing to go along. Scam artists are master manipulators and unfortunately, a lot of them are so good that their victims will continue to give them money, even after you have made it clear that it’s a scam. You’ll change phone numbers and close email accounts and they’ll go on contacting the scammer, and keep the scam going. This means that even if you have taken all the steps you can to protect them from the scammer you might need additional help, in the form of counseling, to protect them from themselves.

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