Scam artists prey on seniors
Post Independent Staff
After 30 minutes of chit-chat with a nicely groomed, friendly gentleman inside her Silt home, Cleo Schultz’s wallet was suddenly a little lighter.
The man never threatened her. He didn’t harass her, and he didn’t forcefully steal the $45 in her wallet. Instead, Schultz willingly handed over her cash to the man who skillfully robbed her blind.
Schultz had been sitting outside her home that afternoon, wondering how to paint her house, a daunting task for a senior citizen. She thought she’d been saved from her difficulties when a nice gentleman approached and offered to help her out with the chore.
The man told her he wouldn’t be available to paint the house for a couple of weeks because he was undergoing cancer treatment ” but if she paid him for the paint, he would purchase everything needed to restore the outside of her home. He even showed her a mole on his arm, a sign of the cancer.
Sympathetic, and unsuspicious of the friendly gentleman sitting in her home, Schultz paid him $45 in cash. She never saw him again.
“Disgusted was my feeling,” Schultz said. “To think I was stupid enough to let somebody get by with something like that ” I felt very stupid.”
One of many seniors trapped in the web of con artists, Schultz says that if it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone. Seniors particularly should be on guard, according to Janice Friddle, of AARP ElderWatch, a project of the Colorado Attorney General and AARP.
“Demographically, the baby boomers are turning 60 this year so the sheer number of people getting older is a factor,” Friddle said. “Then you factor in that $6 trillion of the nation’s wealth belongs to that population, and that’s where the money is.”
The baby boomers’ wealth is not the only thing stamping a bulls-eye on them. With age, mobility becomes a factor, confining some seniors to the quiet loneliness of their homes. When a scamming telemarketer calls or a con artist rings the doorbell, they typically do so knowing someone over the age of 50 will answer.
Telemarketers may place several calls to seniors informing them they’ve won a monetary prize redeemable by divulging a bank account number so funds can be transferred. Fraudulent sweepstakes offers in the mail also target seniors by asking for bank account or credit card information.
“If something looks abnormally good or too good to be true, it probably is,” Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said. “Someone’s trying to get your bank account number so they can telephonically try to drain it.”
More brazen scam artists may go to a senior’s home and offer a service requiring payment up-front, but never return after receiving their money. The insistent, often friendly voices over the phone or on the front porch belong to people who want to cheat seniors, and they often succeed.
Only 1 in 10 senior victims reports fraudulent activity to ElderWatch, because the embarrassment overwhelms them, Friddle said.
“They’re quick to blame themselves,” Friddle said. “They feel like, ‘Gosh, if I mismanaged my money is someone going to think I’ve got the early stages of dementia, am I gonna be put in an institution, am I gonna lose my independence?'” The answer is no, and Friddle said people need to report fraud so that the cloak of secrecy that hides financial elder abuse can be lifted.
Spreading awareness remains key in preventing fraud, Friddle said.
“Recognize that there is an entire population of perpetrators out there, trained, skilled and willing to take seniors,” she said. “Before you part with your money, stop, think.”
Seniors inundated by telemarketers and mail offers should talk to someone they trust before giving out money and personal information, according to Wilson. Calling a relative, the police station or AARP’s ElderWatch hotline can save seniors from becoming victims.
Seniors can also register for the Colorado No Call List by placing their name on a list making it illegal for telemarketers to call them.
The best weapon against fraud must be education, Friddle said. By becoming more aware of the prevalent unethical practices, seniors can protect their finances as well as their feelings.
“It can happen to anybody,” Schultz said. “But keep both eyes open and both ears open and do some serious thinking before you jump into anything. Just be very careful, and size the situation up and down.”
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