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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published July 18 2010

Bursack: Help protect our seniors from scams

Dear Readers: Most of us know of elders who have been scammed.

Because seniors are often trusting, and they are not necessarily used to automated phone calls or e-mail phishing scams, they can fall victim to a crook and lose a lifetime of savings. Often, once they become aware they have lost their money, they are ashamed and don’t want to reveal it to their families or get involved with the police.

A common, and often successful, scam is when a person will gain some personal information about a senior and later call and pretend to be a grandchild in danger of being imprisoned in a foreign jail if money isn’t wired immediately. The senior is convinced because the caller knows so much information that this is true and their grandchild is in trouble. The seniors wire money and are defrauded. Then, once elders figure out they’ve been scammed, they feel vulnerable and even stupid, which they aren’t. They just did what felt right and honorable.

There are many less obvious scams, including “caregivers” hired to help. These people befriend an elder and then start bleeding them financially. I’m not talking about an elder who wants to reward a helper with a tip. There’s nothing wrong with this if the elder can afford it. But many times (this happened to my grandmother), checks are taken and forged, or cash is stolen.

This is nothing new. Years ago, my neighbor, Joe, got used to letting his paper carrier into his house to “use the bathroom.” Joe was totally deaf, and that made him an easy target. He also left his doors unlocked all day and most nights.

One day, Joe’s wallet was stolen. Ironically, someone who knew me found Joe’s wallet and credit cards just a few blocks away, and since Joe had my name in his wallet, this acquaintance called me. I recovered Joe’s wallet and cards. Significant cash was missing. We did call the police even though Joe didn’t want to. I explained that if this thief stole from Joe, he would also steal from others. So Joe reluctantly agreed.

For much more on scams aimed at elders, particularly the national and international kind, take a look at the scam alert on www.silverplanet.com. I find this continually updated resource so informative that I run it on my own blog. Help your elders by staying alert. Sign up for the scam alert on Silver Planet.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.