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Posted: July 23, 2007

Practical Caregiving

Money, Scams and the Elderly: A Bad Recipe

My neighbor, Frank, helps another elderly neighbor, Joe, by taking him to the doctor, grocery store, and other similar things. Joe has made some bad financial decisions, as many elderly do. He was lonely. Reading mail -- any mail -- was a way of feeling connected most of his life, so he still wanted to receive mail as he aged. Joe even ordered things he didn’t need so he could receive mail. Joe’s son was able to get him to stop that, but his son lives several states away and couldn’t monitor the situation on a regular basis.

Much closer, Joe’s granddaughter has a boyfriend that took advantage of Joe. He talked Joe into giving him a lot of money, which Joe needed himself. Next, Joe went to Frank to borrow money.

“Frank, I’ve won a lot of money," Joe told Frank. "The man is going to meet me at Wal-Mart to give it to me, but I need a couple thousand to pay for his expenses.” Frank knew it was a scam and told Joe he couldn’t loan it to him. The next thing Frank did was something everyone in his position should do: he started calling around to find out who he should report the scam to. I don’t know all the details of which agency finally handled it, but there was someone waiting in the Wal-Mart parking lot when the scam artist arrived. 

We have all seen the footage shown on television of a carjacker beating a 91-year-old man as people stood a few feet away and didn’t do anything. It is possible they didn’t see it, but it is more likely that they just didn’t want to get involved. Either way, he needed help and didn’t get it.

You have heard the old question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is YES. We must start taking a stand against the scam artists who take advantage of our elderly. If you don’t do it, how do you think you will feel when you are 91 years old and someone does those things to you? I have talked to many people that age, and I can answer for you: you would feel lousy, violated, gullible. And that's not good.

There are many reasons why the elderly become more susceptible to scams, but I’m going to discuss only three of them. As a person ages, their body doesn’t work as well as it did. In most cases, the elderly mind also doesn’t work as well or as fast as it did years earlier. The elderly may not understand everything as fast as they used to, so they agree to something far-fetched because they don’t want to look stupid. But, this is only part of the problem.

Today's elderly grew up in a time when you could trust people, even when you didn’t know them. People didn’t need to lock their doors. There were counter checks in all businesses. For those of you who don’t know what a counter check was, it was a totally blank check. Someone from a different town could walk into a store and ask for a counter check, then write the name of their bank on it and use it as a normal check. That basic trust from their early years leads the elderly to trust a scam artist.

When a person retires, they lose part of their identity. They identified with their job or career for many years and now that identity is gone because their job is gone. Even when the wife did not work, she still identified with her husband’s job. The job made them feel important, and now that feeling is gone. If they had children, their children are grown now and the aging parents feel they are not needed any longer. A scam artist makes the elderly feel important again, and the elderly will do almost anything to regain that importance. It's an elixir.

All of these things work together to cloud an elderly person’s judgment, making it possible for scam artists to do what they do all too well -- take advantage of the elderly. We all must start helping the elderly, we must start protecting them.

When you know an elderly person, pay attention to everything from answering the phone, people entering their home, what they throw in the trash, their mail, new friends and anything else that looks suspicious. When you know the elderly person, talk to them and ask questions. Don’t assume anything. It might be someone or something that is going to take their money so they can’t buy medicine or food. If you don’t know them and see something suspicious, walk over and observe what’s going on. If it is nothing, don’t linger. They may think you're a scam artist!
The government is trying to stop scams of the elderly. Banks are watching the accounts of the elderly to guard against someone taking their money. Families watch out for their elderly. Friends watch out for the elderly. All of us, as part of society, need to watch out for the elderly whether we know them or not. If you see something suspicious and don’t know the person, call the police and tell them about it. They will direct you to the correct person to contact.
Remember, you want to live to be 91. Think of how horrible it is to be such prey. Protect our elderly. If we can get it stopped now, it will be safe for the elderly now -- and for you when you are 91.

© 2007 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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