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Elder Movies

Elder Scams

For all the years I’ve been writing Time Goes By, I’ve regularly run across news stories of scams perpetrated against elders. Most recently, in Wisconsin, crooks are telephoning elders asking for their bank account numbers.

“The caller told Burke that Medicare was issuing new cards without Social Security numbers, and to get the new Medicare card, Burke would have to give the caller her bank account number.

"’I said 'I don't give out my information like that over the phone,' Burke said. ’I called Medicare, and of course it is a scam.’"

- GazetteXtra, 1 November 2006

This caught my attention because Medicare beneficiaries are, by definition, elders and this is not a con that can be run on 20- or even 50-somethings. In the past, I questioned if news stories connecting scams and elders weren’t just another form of ageism, knee-jerk assumptions that old people are too stupid to know when they are being flimflammed and that reporters never bothered to check if younger people weren’t being scammed too.

I’ve changed my mind.

No one likes to talk about it, but it is a fact of aging that some of us are or will become fuzzy in our thinking. As far as I can tell, I’m doing fine so far, but there are no guarantees that next week or next year a stroke or illness won’t rob me of my cognitive skills - and simple good sense too – perhaps just enough to make me vulnerable to such as this Medicare fraud.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation identifies several other reasons elders are frequent targets of scam artists:

  1. Elders are attractive marks for cons because they are more likely to have “nest eggs”
  2. People who grew up in the 1930s, ’40s and ‘50s are more polite and more trusting than younger people
  3. Elders are less likely to report fraud because “they don’t know who to report it to”
  4. Elder victims, when they do report crime, make less reliable witnesses

Although I take issue with the FBI over items 2, 3 and 4 as generalized assumptions about all elders, there is no doubt that they are sometimes true.

The FBI has an excellent webpage titled, Fraud Target: Senior Citizens with a list of typical scams elders should be aware of, together with tips on avoiding them. They cover:

  • Health Insurance Frauds
  • Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
  • Funeral and Cemetery Fraud
  • Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
  • Telemarketing Fraud
  • Internet Fraud
  • Investment Schemes

The FBI does neglect to mention that anyone can avoid all telemarketing fraud by signing on with the National Do Not Call Registry, which has been successful in stopping telemarketers. I joined the list several years ago and have never again received calls except from charities, politicians and businesses with which I have an existing relationship, which is allowed.

There is no way to know if it would help, but perhaps familiarizing ourselves with the FBI cautionary list is a way to “inoculate” ourselves for the future if our mental faculties begin to slip. And it’s a good idea to make ourselves aware of it to help our aging friends and relatives when they may need our counsel.


The "Do Not Call Registry" is a blessing as far as I'm concerned Ronni. I signed up a few years ago when those ridiculous telemarketing calls were getting way out of hand. Thanks for your post has some great information for all of us. When I hear that any person...not just the elderly...has been scammed, it just infuriates me. As if we don't have enough problems in this country to think we need to be vigilant about scam artists as well. I think they should be called SCUM artists.

Oh, come on now, stop whining. Don't you know that these scammers/scummers will always be immune to getting older or having any kind of disabilties (at any age), and will forever be protected against losing jobs, money, friends or anything else relating to real life? So, naturally they are justified to keep on doing it. The rest of us? Well, we are just losers and need to deal with that.

Unfortunately some seniors do fall victim to the flim flam artists you describe above. Have read accounts of this happening in our local community where someone claims to have won the lottery, but can't claim the ticket for a variety of logical sounding reasons. Then a cohort, pretending to be a stranger, just "happens" on the scene, offers to be some sort of go between, thus protecting the cash the unsuspecting victim withdraws from the bank. Of course, there are some brown paper bags into which the cash is placed, then manipulated like a shell game.

People younger than older people have fallen for that one. The underlying element was "greed."

I heartily endorse the National Do Not Call Registry. My son signed us up at the same time he signed up, since we already knew about it and we had told him we wanted on it whenever it started. How nice it has been to not get so many calls.

Now, if I could just keep the up to 150 daily spam messages out of my email I'd be really happy. They do get identified as such and caught, but it angers me that I even receive them in the first place. I make a mental note of those companies listed in spam and will never do business with them, on the Internet or in their brick and mortar stores.

Just stoped by to say hi.

That's a pretty good page the FBI has but I'm surprised they left out the single most common scam on elder homeowners and that is the fraudulent home improvement business. Shoddy work being done (and usually abandoned shortly after starting) at wildly inflated prices for non-existent, continually escalating problems.

Elderly widows who grew up in an era when "the man of the house" took care of such things are particularly vulnerable as often they can not tell that the work did not need doing in the first place. My mother (84) is just such a person and I've had to warn her off several probable scams.

Everyone should remember that if it's too good to be true, it usually is. At the heart of most scams is the desire to get something for nothing (or at an unbelievably cheap rate). Another scam preying on the elderly is the "cheap travel ad". Always read the fine print.

My 91-yr-old father-in-law was nearly scammed through mail fraud scaring him about losing his SSI benefits, the "death tax" and convincing him he was a "notch baby" and losing SSI benefits from that. All of these "organizations" ask for donations to help them prevent/fix these issues. It's disgusting!

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