She's Ba-ack, Along with The Alex and Ronni Show

Elder Fraud

SELF-SERVING EDITORIAL NOTE: A year ago, Jana Panarites, host of The Agewyz Podcast, interviewed me about my cancer and a bunch of other things. She has posted again and if you missed it the first time, you can listen to it here.

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If you go by the number of fraud alerts aimed at elders that drop into my inbox (unless you are an overwrought conspiracy theorist, there is no reason to believe they are wrong), you couldn't be blamed for thinking old people are idiots.

Look at this chart from the 2018 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2018 [pdf]:


As you can see, the largest age cohort, 60-69, takes up the largest number of fraud reports in 2018 – 20 percent of the total. Apparently, however, we get better at identifying fraud as we get older: The 70-79 age group accounts for 13 percent of fraud reporting; 80 and older, only six percent.

On 7 March this year, the U.S. Department of Justice reported in a press release:

”Attorney General William P. Barr and multiple law enforcement partners today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, surpassing last year’s nationwide sweep.

“The cases during this sweep involved more than 260 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than two million Americans, most of them elderly. The Department took action in every federal district across the country, through the filing of criminal or civil cases or through consumer education efforts.”

As to my rude assumption above that elder fraud victims are idiots, many are dementia patients and sometimes victims have been threatened by the scammers:

”Among the would-be victims highlighted were William Webster, the former director of the FBI and CIA, and his wife, Lynda,” reports the Associated Press.

“The couple described how they were targeted by a man from Jamaica who threatened them. The Websters involved the FBI, which arrested the man after he arrived in the U.S.”

It's the scale of this crime that leaped off the pages for me: 260 defendants with 2 million victims. I know this kind of fraud aimed at elders has been going on for decades but at this particular political juncture in U.S. history, it seems almost as normal as the president's tweet storms have become.

And neither should exist. Or, at least should beget more outrage than I can see happening.

Further, the harm beyond stolen money itself is that unlike younger victims, old people do not have the time to recoup their losses often leaving them without enough money to afford both food AND medications.

The FTC encourages reporting fraud. The complaint page at the FTC is here. Or telephone 1.800.FTC.HELP.

Have you or anyone you know been a victim of elder fraud?


I haven't been a victim of elder fraud (yet!) but I had an interesting experience. My mother's monthly bill at the skilled nursing facility was quite large, necessitating my taking significant withdrawals from her savings. At my bank, as I was depositing one of those checks to her account, the teller very gently made some inquiries, probing to see if I was a victim of elder fraud. I was grateful to know that, at least in some cases, there are watching eyes trying to be helpful. I fear, though, that many elders caught up in a scam are embarrassed or fearful and might not admit it.

I received emails trying to blackmail me. The sender said they had hacked into my web history and threatened to expose pornographic websites they “knew” I had visited to all my email, social network and professional contacts they obtained from hacking into my system. I knew they were lying since I have never, to my knowledge, visited a pornographic website (I know, I’m in a minority).. But the tone wasn’t laughable, it was alarming. I sent the email to the FBI help line. I received this same email again, and I replied that the FBI had a copy of their email, and please send more so I had more evidence. I never heard from them again (to date).

Luckily nothing major, but as I was installing a new version Microsoft Office on my computer, a warning popped up that my computer may have been compromised, and I called the number and talked to a supposed Microsoft tech help guy who showed me some codes on my computer (that I didn’t really understand) and then talked me into paying $460 for a “security package”. Luckily I figured out after he hung up the the Norton Security he installed should have been only $90 and stopped my credit card payment! Ended up getting it for free! This apparently was NOT illegal. These employees sell unneeded multiple licenses for Norton products to unsuspecting computer users. I talked to the REAL Microsoft afterwards and it happens all the time! The tech guy had the nerve to call me back several days later to see if everything was “OK” and I gave him an earful. But he was just one of the employees, not the one who set it up.

I realize this is not specifically elder fraud but we might be more likely to fall for these type of schemes because we are not as tech-savvy as younger folks. I thought sharing this might save some of you some grief! (Although I feel like an idiot for falling for this!)

Both my daughter-in-law's grandmother E. and my best friend N. got taken in by the "this is your grandchild so in so and I'm in jail" in some faraway place scam. Grandma told someone who reported it but her money by wire was gone. My friend has told no one but me and refused to notify the authorities because she was so embarrassed which makes me wonder how under-reported these things are.

In Grandma E.s defense at the time she had a grandson who like to go alone surfing in Mexico which makes you wonder which "friend" used his name and a likely location. As for N.'s call they panicked her, none of her grandkids at the time had money to go to 7-11 much less a foreign country. Sadly she just gave $ to some strange young man to do some home repairs and he disappeared with her money. I really worry but she is 300 miles away and has a daughter nearby and while her judgement is iffy she is mostly able to take care of herself.

it's a slippery slope sort of thing.
Some elderly people are at a point where they need a guardian to protect them from just this kind of thing. But then, who's going to protect them from the guardian?

No doubt we are preyed upon because we may not be as mentally sharp as we once were, and in general we are not as tech savvy as the younger generations. I don't personally know of anyone who's been a victim of the scams, but an average of half a dozen unwanted calls a day assures me the scammers are still hard at it. I route all my calls through my cell phone, where call blockers do an excellent job of blocking the spam and letting me live in peace and quiet.

I'm guessing maybe the focus is on the 60-somethings because they still have money, may be just about to retire, are looking for ways to secure their retirement, don't yet have guardians looking out for them, are still active enough to consider cruises, time shares, etc.

This kind of thing has of course gotten much worse with the advent of computers, and now those endless rob0-calls. Before I stopped answering the phone I had a few choice words with some scammers, and once got partially involved in a supposed security email notification before I got suspicious and hung up. It's sad to say, but I don't trust anyone anymore without lots of verification. Between the scams and the incessant ads, I feel like I'm jumping in a pool of piranhas just to go on the internet.

I don't answer my phone either, and the damned robo callers leave messages, which I feel compelled to check out in case there is something important. My favorite of the awful robo calls is the one threatening some action by the IRS so that I should call the number before my court date or something like that--I delete the message before I get to the end.

I've been lucky, I guess, in that I haven't been scammed--yet. Like the other 6% in their 80s (see chart above) I'm pretty wary and vigilant perhaps to the point of near-paranoia. I don't answer the phone unless I'm pretty sure who's calling, although now that scammers can fake area codes, a "local call" may not be. I do my best to be careful on the internet and never provide personal data if I'm not confident that I'm dealing with a legitimate entity.

Perhaps antithetical to my best interests, I make modest donations from time to time to nonprofits, politicians and causes I support--which has landed me on an ever-expanding multiplicity of mailing lists. They all solicit funds that I don't have to give. I spend a lot of time unsubscribing from these websites. While they aren't scams, they are super-annoying. I SO wish candidates and causes would come to understand that selling donor names can create major ill will--apparently not enough ill will so far since they probably wouldn't continue doing it if it didn't work.

I feel as though I’ve received just about every scam coming down the pike over several years now. I just ignore them all whether by phone or email. If in doubt, before doing anything, on some can separately call bank or business they claim to represent despite the sense of urgency they try to create. I’ve heard at my hairdressers several horror stories of monies lost to customers or others. One reportedly “smart” couple lost money despite their bank’s efforts cautioning them at the time of their withdrawal.

The latest phone message was about some sort of medical treatment and if I missed the deadline to sign up for this, then Medicare would delete my name (even though they never said my name in the message) from the coverage. It made it sound like Medicare would be canceling my coverage. I didn't respond but I wonder how many unwitting people have.

one evening, when I signed into Netflix, I answered a survey from a company (supposedly) that I order from frequently that offered $1,OOO ( that should have been the tipoff to my scam radar. About 5 questions in, the questions were redundant and I x-ed out of the "survey" but that was long enough to seat the virus. For months afterward, I received unwanted pop-ups, and had to be very careful as when I changed pages, a page would show up (Mostly Wayfair). It was annoying, and one time it froze my computer with a warning that I needed to call the number shown - which claimed to be Microsoft. Instead, I called my son to have him check out the number. What he saw was a site with
oriental writing. The spoof warning said "do not turn your computer off!"

After months of this crazy stuff and trying many tech companies who ran their programs but never found anything, I had a problem with Netflix, but the number given to fix was not the same # i had used to seek Netflix support when I had a problem a few years ago.

He sent me instructions to delete and reinstall Google. Problem fixed.

Ronni, I assure you that it’s not that elder folks are idiots compared to younger folks, it’s that they are up against some very sophisticated networks of crooks who share information about prospective targets.

I recently have had two people seek my help with scams, and both were well under 65 and they got phone-scammed by people impersonating law enforcement and they lacked the presence of mind to hang up as soon as it got going. They got one for about $12000 and one for over $40000. They were both women, I will note, but won’t speculate on whether that’s indicative of anything (two is too small a sample).

Virtually all timeshare presentations targeting elderly folks are scams to a greater or lesser degree — they basically set it up so that you are very vulnerable just being there, and they keep you there until you feel like you’ve been waterboarded and will sign anything to get out of there. One of the things that all the big criminals in this field have done is get into selling “points” and “memberships” rather than an actual timeshare in a physical place, where there is a finite number of memberships you can sell. Basically these mobsters sell something that is infinitely creatable (“points”) and they show you lists of places you can go with “points required” next to them, but they will NEVER give you that “price list” while they pitch you, so you get wound up and buy in, and when you go to use your shiny new “membership” you find that, darn, you don’t have enough points and you need to call and get more, and lo and behold! Presto, you are spending money on top of money to try to get the use of the money, and these criminals claim that your membership is PERPETUAL as in, you can’t get out.

One of the things that make elders a target is the Dillinger rule — they rob elders because there’s where the money is.

I know that people really don’t like the idea of recognizing their diminished capacity to fend off predatory salespeople, but damn, folks, when you let yourself get sucked into some “free dinner” sales pitch for timeshares or living trusts, big alarms ought to go off in your head that flash neon lights that say “WARNING, DANGER, FREE LUNCH OFFERED” because, hey, these companies do not buy old people free meals because they like old people.

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