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Thursday, September 09, 2010

BBB concerned with the rise in senior fraud

Paulette Scarpetti, President of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau, wants all you families out there to discuss the potential of fraud with senior family members. Unfortunately, many of us older folks don’t realize just how many con artists there are, and just how smooth they can be in order to get their hands on our money. I have personally met with AARP volunteers who work with seniors and the horror stories abound.

Howard Schwartz, Communications Director for the Connecticut BBB has put together a list of the cons that target seniors, along with an explanation and BBB advice on how to avoid these traps. They include the following scams: sweepstakes and lottery; Medicare; bereavement; deceptive sales; investment and work-at-home opportunities; and the grandparent trick. I can add to that mailing lists categorized as “gullibles,” those who respond to offers too good to be true, and that are broken down by age.

But first, let me describe in detail the demographics of the senior issue that point out just how huge this problem is, and how important it is for families to help their elders now in this dire time of need. It’s not like they are asking you for money. Unknowingly, they are really begging family members to help them keep what money they have.

The total population age 65+ is 34.9 million representing 12.4% of the total; of that, 4.3 million ages 85+ are the most vulnerable. The U.S. Census breaks this down into “Family” and “Non-Family,” households, so let’s begin with the easiest group to work with, the families. 12 million of the age 65+ are in a “family” situation, which means the children probably have easy access to their parents or grandparents to educate them on fraud.

Non-families are a much bigger problem, numbering 10.1 million age 65+ or 30.2% of the population. A majority of these seniors will be living on their own, 29% with incomes under $15,000, compared to 9.5% of family situation incomes. Widowed females, 4.2%, represent over four times that of widowed males, alone with nobody close to talk with, and perhaps the easiest target of all for the bad guys.

Next in line of vulnerability are the age 75+ who number 16.7 million, with 5.8 million of those in non-family situations, compared to 4.8 million in families. This group is still active—I am one of them—and they are more likely to be on the Internet where some of the worst scams originate. They are probably harder to reach, and many are out of contact with their families.

Now that you know the enormous parameters, the question is do you have family members that fall within this universe? If you do, you should at least talk with them now and offer your help if it should ever be needed. If they are in the more elderly age group, be more persistent in discussing their financial situation, using the possibility of losing their life savings as your reason for concern.

TOMORROW: More on the BBB’s identified scams and how to avoid them.

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