Scammers direct crimes toward seniors

Staff writer

Scams are out there. Some are aimed at seniors.

“Scammers attach themselves to the lonely,” said Barb Smith, volunteer with Marion County Department on Aging. “They want money.”

Retired now, Smith used to work at Kansas Legal Services in Wichita, sometimes assisting seniors who been victims of fraud.

“Scammers try to manipulate people over the age of 65 at a higher rate than the general population. They see seniors as an easy target,” she said. “Elders grew up in a time when scammers weren’t as common, so they are not as guarded, and they generally trust people more than younger people do.”

Smith said seniors should educate themselves on common fraud and financial abuse.

“In the video I show there are typically four areas,” she said, “family members, contractor fraud, ‘the sweetheart scam,’ and ‘the unscrupulous salesman.’”

According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA), common reasons family members may financially abuse their elders include substance abuse, gambling, financial problems, or a fear that their elders may get sick and use up all their savings, thus depriving the abuser of an inheritance.

Abusers may also have negative feelings toward family members that give them a sense of entitlement to inheritance.

Smith described typical contractor fraud as involving “a person who does a little something, a little job around the elder’s house, and then gets pushy and wants cash fast.”

Contractor fraud happens more during storm season and after storms, she said.

However, the job the false contractor allegedly performs likely did not need to be done, did not help the senior in any discernible way, or was not actually done at all, she said.

“Sweetheart scams” are directed at lonesome or isolated seniors who often have recently lost a spouse, she said. Scammers come in the guise of someone that wants to help.

“They are usually someone the elder doesn’t know like a ‘volunteer,’” Smith said.

The NCPEA’s website also said that sweetheart scammers may profess to love the older person, seek employment as a personal care attendant or counselor, or express excessive interest in the amount of money being spent on the senior.

Smith said unscrupulous salesmen generally try to peddle insurance, investments, or “something that really doesn’t help them or may even harm them in some way.”

“A red flag is when they want you to sign a paper ‘right now’,” Smith said. “There is also a lot of Medicare fraud out there.”

More information is available from Smith at (620) 382-2657 or Marion County Department on Aging at (620) 382-3580.

Last modified Aug. 20, 2015

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