The statistics are sobering: criminals increasingly target senior citizens with scams. Their paid-off mortgages, plump nest eggs, tendency to answer the telephone and engage in conversation, and their sometimes-unguarded demeanors make them ideal targets.
A recent report developed through a partnership between San Francisco-based TrueLink Financial and Laurie Orlov, a research analyst with Forrester, revealed that seniors lose $36.48 billion dollars a year to fraud. Fraud impacts an estimated 36.9% of seniors in any given five-year period.
Some fraud operations are blatant while others are subtle, like erroneous bills sent repeatedly. Often, seniors do not believe they owe the money, but the amounts are just low enough that it doesn’t seem worth it to fight it. It is tough to prove whether this fraud is purposeful or accidental. Many seniors feel lost and alone in such situations, regardless of the intent of the people involved.
The Safety Net
“I once took a call from a very sweet elderly LegalShield member who lived alone and had no one. She told me that she had received a collection notice claiming she owed about $700 on a credit card balance. She did not think she had a balance owing on any credit cards, but she was confused and did not know for sure. She was scared and did not know what to do. Fortunately, she thought to turn to us for help. That’s when the benefit of a LegalShield plan really pays off,” says Joe Lombino, managing partner at LOMBINO ∙ MARTINO (the LegalShield provider law firm based in Lakewood, Washington).
This woman received support from Mr. Lombino in the form of an initial review of documents and investigation, a letter, a phone call, and, ultimately, a conference call with the collection agency where it was acknowledged that she did not owe any money at all. The conference call ended with both an apology from the collection agency and a firm understanding that this woman would not be alone in any future misunderstandings of this type; she would have her LegalShield provider law firm by her side.
“I probably did a little more than what was required according to the letter of the contract, but my heart went out to this woman. LegalShield is a great safety net for people, especially for those who might be vulnerable. Everyone needs some help every now and again,” says Mr. Lombino.
How Can Seniors Protect Themselves From Fraud? 3 Common Sense Steps
1. Don’t stay on that phone! 10 seconds and you’re done.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with consumer advocacy groups like Fraud.org urge seniors to guard against even engaging in conversations with strangers calling their homes. Scammers make it their business to persuade, befuddle, and trap seniors into sharing personal information.
A prolific scam that has recently experienced a resurgence has involved people posing as representatives of the court to call victims demanding they pay penalties for missed jury duty. The threats and shaming throw victims off balance, moving some of them to want to pay up to make things right. If it sounds too terrible to be true, hang up.
Make a 10-second rule for phone calls. No good can come of staying on the line longer, so don’t
2. Just because the doorbell rings doesn’t mean you should open the door.
The longer a con artist keeps a senior at the door, the more likely that senior will be coerced into boundaries-crossing conversations and exposing information about living arrangements. Seniors who could be characterized as “friendly” lose four times as much to elder abuse because of their tendency to give criminals the benefit of the doubt.
When a solicitor knocks, the FBI recommends seniors shout, “I’ll get it!” as they approach, regardless of their living situations. Speak only through a closed, locked door. Politely end conversations and be done.
3. Ask for help if something doesn’t seem right.
Families are scrambling to protect loved ones from torrents of too-good-to-be-true offers, manipulative voices over the phone, and random bills as the tempo of scams reach a fever pitch. Families shouldn’t neglect to tell loved ones to reach out if they feel worried about calls or correspondence they receive.
Signs it’s a scam:
- Demands for upfront payment.
- Promises of cash, prizes or trips.
- Fear mongering and threats.
- Repeated calls/visits despite requests for no further contact.
- Offers to send a courier to pick up payment.
“A LegalShield membership really can act as a safety net. There are some real sharks out there and we offer protection. I see us as shielding elderly people from those who wish to prey on them. We act as a lifeline to our members and I’m proud of that,” says Mr. Lombino.