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Sad to say, but as we get older, we are not only victimized by increasing physical weakness. We are often targeted by cruel financial scams that attempt to take advantage of our free time, our desire for human interaction, and our inability to keep up with the latest technology. If you feel that you or your elderly loved ones are vulnerable, you are probably right. Fortunately, an experienced elder law attorney can create well-constructed trusts and utilize other forms of estate planning to protect you from creditors, lawsuits, and taxes as well as scam artists.

What makes seniors more vulnerable to scams?

The schemes described below do not only fool older people. Plenty of young people have been caught in similar snares. It’s just that seniors are more likely to be:

  • Around their homes and available for doorbells or phone calls
  • More likely to be relaxed and interested in having a conversation with a stranger than homemakers with young children or rushing to do errands
  • More eager to save or win money if living on fixed incomes
  • More trusting because they are less savvy about the latest technology
  • More vulnerable to telemarketing scams

The best time to protect yourself or a family member from scam artists is before they have been taken advantage of. Below are some tips to alert your family to Department of Justice warnings about scams that target seniors. These should make you eager to contact a well-respected elder law attorney to discuss effective estate planning options to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Some of the Current Scams Designed to Target Senior Citizens

First, it pays to remember that criminals will go to any lengths to victimize their prey. Do not fall into the familiar trap of thinking “no one would sink that low.” Being optimistic and thinking the best of everyone can be a wonderful personality trait, but not if you are trying to protect yourself from criminal behavior.

Though most of the disreputable parties who engage in elder scams are not violent, don’t forget that they are willing to figuratively, if not literally, throw grandma under a bus — prepared to leave her homeless and destitute if it meets their needs. Several common elder financial elder abuse schemes include:

  1. Personal Financial Abuse – This type of scam can be directly addressed by an elder law/estate planning attorney since it involves a betrayal by a person known to the senior taking advantage of his/her family or friend connection, intimacy as a healthcare worker, or fiduciary status as a financial advisor. With a savvy estate planning attorney, a responsible person who has the senior’s best interests at heart can become a trustee for his or her funds, thereby necessitating that payment of any large sums must be previously approved.
  2. Identity Theft — Identity theft involves stealing the key to the kingdom because a senior’s stolen identity gives the thief the ability to use credit cards, drain bank accounts, and even defraud government agencies (e.g. Medicare, Social Security). Many of the other scams mentioned here are designed to elicit the older person’s Social Security Number (SSN) in order to break into any number of private accounts
  3. Robocalls — Bothersome for so many years, robocallers are constantly becoming more sophisticated. For instance, with caller ID on most phones, they have found ways to use other numbers with your area code so that you feel you may be hearing from a neighbor, though the call actually originates overseas.
  4. You’ve Won! — Sweepstakes and lottery scams circulate through the mail, the telephone, and over the internet. Emails ostensibly written by lotteries you don’t remember entering are common. There are also scams that inform you of your eligibility for a rebate if only you will provide identification or a small sum as a handling fee. The takeaway here is: if they’re asking for money, they’re not giving anything away.
  5. “Can You Hear Me?” -– This scam has become increasingly popular which implies that it has been successful. It is predicated on the notion that most people will answer this question automatically, especially in these days of unreliable phone connections. The way the scam works is that when you reply “Yes,” the person or entity calling records your voice and can now use it as a verbal approval for paying a bill or authorizing stolen credit card use.
  6. IRS Scams – Scam artists know that pretty much everyone is afraid of having a problem with the IRS and likely to respond irrationally if they believe the IRS has tracked them down. There are numerous variations on this scam, but there are always scare tactics involved. Victims are threatened with high penalties on back taxes, foreclosure, incarceration, or even deportation. Under that threat, some people will offer a credit card number or agree to make an electronic wire transfer.
  7. We Have Your Grandchild — A great many seniors have lost large sums of money to strangers who claim to be a senior’s young relative or someone holding that young person. The claim is that the grandchild or whomever is in jail, the hospital, or being held hostage in another country and needs immediate money for bail, medical bills, or airfare. The senior, momentarily terrified, wires money.
  8. Money to Buy Love — Older people are more likely to have lost their spouses or other romantic partners and so are more vulnerable to scams offering new relationships. After a brief, warm correspondence involving phone calls, letters, or emails, scam artists will ask for money to travel to the individual they now claim to love or for some other reason.
  9. Computer Scams — Knowing that seniors are almost always less informed about computer technology than younger people, scam artists will call with a sense of urgency, claiming that the older person’s computer has been hacked and infected with a virus. Posing as a member of a technical support team from say Dell or Apple, they will ask to be given remote access to the victim’s computer so they can steal personal information to breach bank accounts and other financial sources.

Protect Yourself or Your Older Loved One Now

Remember that many of these scams, especially those involving computers and phone calls, are set in motion late in the evening or even in the middle of the night, when no one is particularly alert. It is not hard to frighten or confuse people (particularly the elderly) when they are drowsy or sound asleep. Don’t allow humiliation to prevent you from calling law enforcement and don’t allow pride to keep you from contacting an accomplished elder law/estate planning attorney to help protect your assets from internet hoodlums.