Avoiding Senior Scams by Mario Parker

Crime statistics show that senior citizens are being targeted disproportionately by swindlers. Seniors receive more telephone, direct mail and email solicitations than any other demographic group. It is estimated that one out of every five Americans over 65 has been the victim of a scam and half of all frauds investigated by law enforcement involve victims who are 60 years or older.

It is fair to ask, why are seniors being targeted? To find out why, it is useful to remember the words of Willie Sutton the well-known bank robber of the 1930’s and 40’s. When a reporter asked him why he robbed banks Willie replied, “Because that is where the money is”. Today, seniors are where the money is. Seniors own 70% of all money market accounts and three quarters of the nation’s financial wealth. Seniors purchase 24% of all toys and they account for 80% of all luxury travel. They spend as much time on line as teenagers and have a lifetime of accumulated savings.

Seniors are vulnerable for other reasons as well. Most were brought up to be polite on the phone and having more time, they are open to having phone conversations with strangers. They disproportionately trust “experts” (I am the Vice President of Asset Management at ….), they may live alone, have ready cash on hand and many are worried about having enough income to last through retirement, making them prey for get rich-quick-schemes.

High on the list of scams and inappropriate investments are unregistered investments, inappropriate annuities, home equity and reverse mortgages, life settlement securities and other investments involving precious metals, gas wells, alternative energy and other schemes that promise to create wealth quickly. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! By far the fastest route into a senior’s bank account is through the telephone. Telemarketing is a highly sophisticated multi-million dollar business. There is so much money to be made soliciting seniors that telemarketers purchase sophisticated data bases that can target specific demographics. They also have the resources to employ strong legal departments that allow
them to know how to develop pitches that bend, but do not break the law.

In addition to using data mining and list brokers to target seniors, their marketing departments use direct mail, the internet, radio and TV to generate leads. Their telephone sales staffs are trained marketers who use scripts and rebuttal sheets to overcome any objection that their target may come up with.

A social scientist by the name of David McClelland created what he called a human motivation theory. He sought to divide the forces that motivate each of us into three general categories: The need for Achievement, The need for Power and the need for Affiliation. The profile for a good telemarketer is a high need for Power and Achievement and a low need for Affiliation. In other words, a good telemarketer has a high need to skillfully control and get what he wants from you and a very low need to empathize with you on a human level – he just wants your money and does not care whether it hurts you or not.

The bottom line is that you and I, are no match for a skilled telemarketer or con artist if we engage them at a time of their choosing, on their terms and on their turf. We are amateurs – they are professionals.

Do not respond to direct mail, free offers and advertisements. Register your phone on the “Do Not Call Registry” and opt out of direct mail and email offers.

A word about being polite to telemarketers: they chose to call you, for the reasons that we have discussed. However, there are things you can do to protect yourself without being rude. If I happen to pick up the phone and someone I do not recognize asks for me by name, I tell them that I am not home and ask if they would like to leave a message or I tell them I have company and cannot talk. If you do that consistently the number of calls will go down over time.

Beyond avoiding scams and telemarketers, it is best to be proactive about your investments and your donations. Decide how you want to invest your money and then don’t be swayed by someone who calls you out of the blue. Be proactive about the charities that you support. Knowing that I donate money on a yearly basis to charities that my wife and I wish to support makes it easy for me to turn down anyone who solicits me on the phone or in person.

Develop a healthy skepticism about anyone who asks you to part with your money. Trust your instincts, if you have any doubts don’t go forward. Always remember: What’s the hurry? Do not let anyone pressure you into doing anything that you have not thoroughly investigated and discussed in detail with a trusted friend or family member.

Give us a call if you would like to discuss any issues related to senior care. We are not professional counselors, but we have had a great deal of experience and many problems that may be new to you are issues that we and the families that we serve have dealt with before. You are under no obligation to use our services. This is what we do and if we cannot help you we are happy to point you in the right direction and assist in any way we can.

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