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How financial scams artists prey on lonely seniors

Most of our closest friendships are with people in a similar age group. With age, the news in 80-year-old and 90-year-old circles becomes who is moving to assisted living, how long a recovery from a stroke will take or when a funeral will take place.

A recent New Yorker story highlights how scam artists prey on this isolation and loneliness that can develop in old age. In the story, it took a notice from a long-time family stockbroker to trigger family action. Even then, the late 80s widow asked her children to butt out because she knew what she was doing.

A promise to take care of family and …

The variety of scams that target those who still pick up the phone and check their mail are innumerable. In this one, the widow believed she had won a multi-million-dollar prize.

All the person on the phone, “Sam,” told her she needed to do was pay some federal taxes and fees. She sent four $50,000 checks to an address in California at his direction.

The fourth check finally set off concern at the Charles Schwab branch where the activity was flagged as unusual. The woman’s son and daughter quickly acted to freeze accounts and notify law enforcement agencies.

But their mother was angry and called “her friend Sam.” He instructed her to drive to a different bank branch and send money adding she should explain the transfer was a payment to a contractor, if asked. 

A friendship

How could a loved one fall for something like this? This is common question. These schemes are sophisticated, ever adapting and prey on loneliness.

It might be impossible to get a teenage granddaughter or even an adult child on the phone to chat for a couple minutes, but this person calls with wonderful news. And then he has time to talk, speaks slowly and wants to do something generous for grandchildren. This person keeps calling and it becomes a new friend.

As families spread out across the country and many elders live in retirement communities, it can be hard to catch this type of fraud before it is too late. Once the money is gone, it’s almost impossible to recover in most circumstances.

How to protect loved ones

A financial power of attorney is a simple legal tool that can allow more oversight. But you cannot get a power of attorney over a parent or close friend once they are unable to handle their own financial affairs.

A candid chat many years before a loved one begins to fail are a protection. It might help to seek assistance from an elder law/estate planning attorney in guiding this chat and explaining relevant law. Put the meeting on the calendar during a visit and send the agenda to aging loved ones so it doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Having a plan can avoid significant financial losses down the road.

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