Experts offer tips to thwart scams against seniors

by Joni Astrup
Associate Editor
Older adults are sometimes targeted by thieves and other unscrupulous characters.
Two experts on crimes against seniors talked about some of the scams and perils during a presentation April 7 at the Elk River Activity Center.
Speaking were Investigative Sgt. Paul Novotny and Investigator Renee Casey, both with the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office in Elk River, who discussed vulnerable adult abuse and financial exploitation.
One in 10 older adults is a victim of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation.
Suspected abuse can be reported to the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center, which has a 24-hour hotline at 1-844-880-1574 and a website, http://elderjusticemn.org/minnesota-adult-abuse-reporting-center. If it’s an emergency, call 911.
If you are a victim of a financial crime, report it to your local law enforcement agency.
Novotny said they have seen cases where people have been bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars – their life savings.
“It is so tragic,” he said.
In the case of financial exploitation, Casey said authorities often don’t find out about it until a lot of the money is missing.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for people who are taking advantage of older adults to be family members.
Novotny told about one case where a woman was being evicted from her home because she had used her money to pay for a relative’s college education. The woman’s family had suggested if she paid the college bills, they would be available to drive her where she wanted to go, since she couldn’t drive.
Casey talked about another case where a man took several hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years from a family member who was legally blind.
Among the things he did was take out a reverse mortgage in the victim’s name and purchase cars in their name.
“It is incredibly sad,” Casey said. “You just can’t help but feel for this person. This other individual is living in the lap of luxury while their relative is struggling. It kind of makes my blood boil.”
Others are taken advantage of by someone they trust who handles their finances. Casey said she recommends thoroughly researching the person or business that will be helping you with your finances.
Who is at risk for being a victim?
•People with cognitive disabilities.
•People with limited sight and hearing, which can make it difficult to understand the fine print in documents being signed.
•People who are isolated and dependent on others.
•People who have suffered a loss, especially the loss of a spouse.
•People who are confused by money matters.
•People who are tired, lonely and fearful.
Perpetrators can include paid caregivers, new “best friends” or “sweethearts,” neighbors, property managers or landlords, religious leaders and fellow parishioners, interpreters and translators, financial, insurance and real estate advisers and family members.
“More times than not it has shown to be family members that do this,” Casey said.

Scams are a dime a dozen
Novotny, meanwhile, talked about some of the scams that they see.
Common scams involve everything from Medicare to the IRS, grandchildren in trouble to fake checks. Others include telemarketing scams, internet fraud, investment schemes, reverse mortgage scams, anti-aging product scams and even funeral and cemetery scams.
One example Novotny cited involves a victim getting a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and threatening to have the person arrested for failing to pay taxes.
The IRS doesn’t call, it sends letters, Novotny noted. He also cautioned against sending gift cards to correct a “problem,” noting that the IRS doesn’t accept gift cards, so any such request is a scam.
Other tips to avoid being scammed include:
•Don’t do business over the phone with someone you don’t know. “That friendly voice at the other end of the line is probably a crook,” Novotny said.
•Don’t give credit card or checking account numbers to someone you don’t know.
•Keep your Social Security number confidential.
•Walk away from a “deal” if you are getting pressured to make an immediate decision.
•Be aware of theft of mail from mail boxes, particularly outgoing mail. Thieves are alerted when the flag on the mailbox is up. Novotny advises people to mail their letters at the post office. If you are out of town, have your mail picked up promptly by a trusted person.
•Shred any mail with identifying information such as your name, address and date of birth.
•Don’t trust caller ID.
•Use a credit card rather than a debit card.
•Carefully go over credit card statements to check for any charges that weren’t made by you.
•Trust your gut. “If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right,” he said.
•Have a buddy to run suspicious things past.
For more information about scams against seniors, go to the Minnesota Attorney General’s website at www.ag.state.mn.us.