September 2009 Navy
by LCDR David M. Bradley, USN (Ret)
There are more than15,000 criminal organizations in the U.S. that are trying to scam retirees. Each year that passes, these thieves and con artists will net more than $40 billion dollars from their victims, and that amount continues to rise. Everyone is susceptible to some extent, but seven out of ten of these criminal acts will be geared toward retirees.
Thieves will create highly sophisticated schemes that can reel in educated adults and veterans in a way that is simply shocking. Criminals will move quickly and try to pull off the scam before a family member can notice that something is wrong. By the time the police have been contacted, the con artists will have moved on to a new victim.
Con men will use many different tricks to get a victim to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars, merchandise, and jewelry. In a few cases they will even trick their victims into handing over their lives and everything in it, via a new power of attorney document. The abuse against retirees, physical as well as financial, can go on indefinitely, for the victim may be too afraid or embarrassed to alert the police or their family members.
Almost all of the schemes and scams committed have been classified as “transient crimes.” The reason for this description is the fact that they use home repair and diversionary tactics, such as asking a victim to allow them into their home to call a tow truck for their car.
Why Are Retirees Most Susceptible to Fraud?
Most of us grew up in an era that bred trust.We could have a verbal contract, and trust that the other will hold fast to their word. We knew our neighbors, and although it was not a perfect world, most of us felt safe.
Retirees are also targeted because they might happily begin a relationship with an honest looking stranger when they become lonely. As their kids grow up and move away to create their own families, elder parents may live in a big house that suddenly feels empty.
Consumers assume that con artists work alone, but in most cases they are a part of a larger network. Once one of them has successfully scammed a victim, they will alert another group and new criminals will take the place of the old. Scammers, who work alone, may even contact their previous victims to get more money from new schemes, and some retirees have been tricked into handing money over to the same group or criminal repeatedly.
Too much pride can hurt us all, but in an effort to maintain our need to be self reliant, a victim may try to hide that they have emptied their bank accounts into the hands of a criminal.
What Scams and Schemes Do Con Artists Use?
Retirees have been scammed out of billions of dollars by less than honest telemarketers. There are many different scams and tricks that are used and some phone calls are received from real telemarketers trying to get a commission any way they can, even if it’s illegal and others are fake con artists.
- Prize Scams – The con artists will call or send a letter claiming that you have won a prize. However, to receive the prize, you will first need to send in a fee for shipping and handling or to cover any tax that is accrued. You should never give out your credit card or checking account numbers to anyone over the phone and if you really have won a prize, it’s illegal for a company to ask you to pay for it.
- Recover Stolen Money – This scam is pulled by the same people who stole your identity and personal information. They will make a phone call asking for a fee so that they can help you to recover any money that was lost or stolen.
- Free Medical Card – Some victims have been scammed by crooks that call to offer them a free medical card. All they have to do is give them their checking account number.
Home Repair/Improvement Scam
Another billion dollar scam involves tricking retirees into paying for home repair work that they may not need. Sometimes a con artist will knock on the door offering paving work and they will claim that everyone else in the neighborhood have signed up to get their driveways and sidewalks paved, in an attempt to pressure elderly victims into agreeing. Once a check is written, the thieves will get away with the money or they will provide the unnecessary work that will be sub par.
They may also call or come knocking to say that the roof needs to be replaced, or they will trick a victim by claiming that they were the construction company for the previous home owners and that the house is still under contract.
In many home repair scams, con artists will have to move quickly if they want to avoid friends or family members of their elderly victims. They will proceed with high pressure tactics to get them to agree. Potential victims should let them know that they will think about it, and speak to friends and family before making a decision. This answer has scared away many home repair criminals.
Retirees are highly susceptible to diversions and con artists will frequently use them. They will knock at the door asking for a glass of water, help with a broken car, or a request to make a phone call.You should not allow anyone into your home, because once inside, you can easily be over powered.
Thieves will ask you to go to the kitchen for a beverage, while they quickly attempt to steal cash, jewelry, purses and small equipment. Many con artists will use females or young people to make their victims feel safe in allowing them into their homes.