Elder Law

A scam is defined as a fraudulent scheme, especially for making a quick profit, and (if severe enough) can be considered financial abuse by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.  Unfortunately, our seniors are the most vulnerable to this type of abuse.

There are many types of scams out there, but almost all of them are done by either mail or phone.  In one common scheme, someone calls, usually with a lot of background noise, and says that it’s the senior’s grandson.  He says that he’s in some foreign country and has just been arrested.  He needs a couple thousand dollars to get bailed out and get back to the States and this is his only phone call.  The senior rushes right out and wires the money only to discover in the ensuing days that her grandson is fine and has never left New York.  The money will never be reclaimed, and now she’s become a victim of a scam.

Another common scheme done both on the phone and through the mail is telling the senior that he has just won the Canadian Lottery or some other major jackpot but just needs to send “handling charges” to claim the prize.  This can be a particularly onerous one as once the schemer has their hooks into the senior, they bilk him for more and more.  Of course, the senior never sees a dime in prize money.

Other common scams to look out for are high pressure funeral arrangements with empty promises and plots of land that don’t even exist.  Many scams target seniors’ retirement money, giving them luxurious or seemingly charitable options to invest into.  Most scams involve high pressure or do-or-die situations so the senior has no time to think or reflect.  The scammer is praying on their emotion, trying to override their intellect.

As a child of seniors, I find that I have to be more vigilant in making sure my parents aren’t victims of fraud.  This is sometimes tricky, as at times I feel that the child has become the parent.

The best thing is to be involved with your parents’ lives.  The closer you are to your elderly parents, the more you’ll be aware of what’s happening. As discretely as possible, you need to keep track of their spending patterns, bills, and charitable donations.  That’s the only way to know if something changes.  And, as hard as it might be, it’s important to be willing to approach them if a red flag comes up.

It’s hard when parent-child roles become reversed, but it’s the only way you can try to advise or instruct your parents on what to do.  Often, they just don’t see or realize the financial dangers.  What’s the harm in sending some money to a charity?  It’s for children in Africa or for wounded veterans.  Those “donations” start coming fast and furious, and frequently those charities don’t really exist.  This sometimes has the added scam of identity theft when the “charities” start asking personal questions, such as birthdates or social security numbers.

Another thing that might help is the national and state “Do Not Call” registries.  This will keep a large portion of scammers away.  Of course, some numbers always fall through the cracks, but this is especially beneficial when you can’t be as close as you would like.  The more the seniors in your life know about potential scams and the more vigilant you are, the more likely you’ll be able to protect them against this abuse.