A recent study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) highlighted characteristics of people older than 50 that make them easy targets for financial abuse. In general, these individuals: expect honesty in the marketplace, are less likely to take action when defrauded, and are less knowledgeable about their rights in an increasingly complex marketplace. The following are some of the more common elderly abuse tactics today.
Fraudulent telemarketers who know an elder is likely to have retirement savings, good credit, and the time to talk on the phone often victimize seniors. While Ponzi schemes have been the most publicized, prize and sweepstakes scams appear quite commonly. These can be received by email or phone and usually offer a “too good to be true” prize just for winning a sweepstakes or contest. However, in order to receive the prize, the senior must send in a money order for shipping and handling, or some other nominal service. The senior sends the money, and no prize is ever received.
Another common scam includes a call or email asking the senior to call a “900,” “976” or other unknown telephone number in order to claim a prize. Making such calls can result in a very expensive phone bill. In California, it is a crime to require a person to call a “900” or “976” telephone number in order to collect a prize. If this happens to you, immediately report it to the L.A. County Department of Consumer Affairs at (213) 974-1452 and contact an elder law attorney to proceed with sanctions.
Arguably the saddest telemarketing scheme affecting seniors is the fraudulent charities scheme. Criminals call, email, or mail a letter to the senior supposedly representing a charity in need. However, the charity doesn’t exist, or they are not the representatives for that charity and are pocketing any money the senior sends. If the charitable organization is legitimate, its representatives will give you the opportunity to confirm that it is a bona fide charity. Aggressive pressure tactics are often signs that the charitable organization may be fraudulent.
FRAUDULENT LIVING TRUSTS
Many scam artists tell seniors that “living trust kits” can save them thousands of dollars and help their loved ones avoid probate of their estate after death. In reality, these kits are often overpriced, lack proper instructions, and simply may not fit the senior’s financial planning needs. An experienced elder law attorney is best suited to evaluate whether a living trust is appropriate for you.
STAGED AUTO COLLISIONS
These con artists intentionally cause an accident with a senior in order to collect on fraudulent insurance claims. Some may then ask for cash for the alleged damages and request that the settlement be confidential, telling seniors not to report the “accident” because they could lose their license or insurance. Finally, some criminals may steal money or identification cards and credit cards from the senior’s wallet or purse at the accident scene.
REAL ESTATE FRAUD
Most seniors’ primary asset is their home. When seniors are victimized through mortgage loan fraud or when caretakers and others defraud them out of title to property, elders risk losing their home or tying up title in a legal mess. Reverse mortgages are the most prevalent real estate fraud affecting seniors today. A reverse mortgage is a home equity loan that allows homeowners to convert some of the equity in their homes to cash while they retain ownership. Reverse mortgages work much like traditional mortgages, but in reverse. Rather than making a payment to your lender each month, the lender pays you. Reverse mortgages are designed for people who are “house-rich, but cash-poor.” Because your home is such a valuable asset, you should consult with your family, elder law attorney, or financial advisor before applying for a reverse mortgage.
Elder abuse scammers can be tough to catch. Many scammers have paperwork that appears to give them legal authority to act. Some work at banks or other financial institutions and have intricate ways of hiding their tracks by manipulating electronic records. If you or a loved one has been affected by elder abuse scams, contact the experienced elder law attorneys at The Law Offices of Christopher B Johnson today.