Scams, the elderly and how to stay safe

Why does it seem that the elderly are the target for more scams than the rest of the population? Is there something about being older that makes one more susceptible to being duped? Studies are being conducted by various researchers to find out why the elderly are more often the victim of these types of crimes and why scam artists consider them easy pickings.

One root cause appears to be loneliness. Many seniors who feel isolated or not in touch with family are vulnerable to the kind, friendly and engaging manner of professional con artists. The thieves are trained and smooth in conversation, and this is why they are also called “confidence men.”

Of course, in this day and age it is not just men who are con artists. Women, as well, pose as romantic interests or as charity causes to gain trust and scam others from their hard-earned funds.

Another reason that elders fall prey is their decreased cognition.

Aging can be accompanied by cognitive impairment and even if slightly cognitively impaired, it is very difficult to discern the tricksters’ methods. Research into Alzheimer’s disease indicates that financial judgment may be the first type of judgment to erode, even before it is evident that cognition is impaired.

A note on this intelligence or cognition bit — some very smart and accomplished people have been scammed. Why? Because they are surrounded by honest people who are like them are hard-working, ethical individuals. Therefore, the concept of a barefaced liar whose only motive is to get to your wallet or bank account is completely outside their realm of reality. Also many very bright hard working people are extremely busy with their projects or business and frankly don’t take the time to do due diligence and investigate the background or conditions of “opportunities” or of those presenting them.

Seniors also may feel financially insecure and therefore, if an easy money deal comes to them via the mail, the telephone or the internet, they may be tempted to let their insecurity or their greed overcome their better judgment and get involved. The old saying “if it seems like it is too good to be true it probably is” is a good adage.

Many scammers buy lists and simply start calling. There are no restrictions against selling name and personal information such as ages, phone numbers and addresses. Deal with companies who expressly state that they will not sell your information or be prepared to deflect the calls and offers from scammers.

One way of helping elderly parents is to ask them to allow you to monitor their financial transactions. Sometimes the catch 22 is that the elder is more trusting of the unknown entity rather than their own family.

If you can have a concerned conversation about lotteries, contests and phone calls and people asking about personal information, it can provide a level of defense against the scammers. Unfortunately, sometimes the scammers are close friends or relatives who are entrusted with the care of the elders. Financial elder abuse is a problem globally and appears to be a growing concern.

For those who are concerned about their elder loved ones falling prey to the countless scammers out there, here are some ways to reduce the risk for them.

w Check in often so that your aging parent or friend does not feel lonely and therefore vulnerable to a slickster.

w Ask to be a co-signer on the main bank account so that you can monitor any sudden changes. Have your parent or friend sign a Durable Power of Attorney appointing a competent and ethical person to handle the finances if cognitive impairment does occur. Suggest that the elder use a licensed fiduciary to handle the money if they resist a family member’s involvement.

w Encourage your elder to be social and have friends, but at the same time monitor those relationships. Experts indicate that the elderly will trust those with whom they already have a relationship such as their housekeeper, their gardener, paid companion or bookkeeper and this relationship can be the very one that may be violated. It is important to do background checks on those who enter into your elder’s life in a new and trusted position. Just as with the wealthy and smart people who get ripped off because of lack of due diligence and research, this is a very important step in keeping your elderly loved one safe and protected from crime.

w The other way that elders who get scammed differ from others, is that they expose themselves to the market place more often. They may be more inclined to respond to an offer of a free lunch seminar, read junk mail, and send away for “free” information or introductory offers.

Scamming and hacking has reached epidemic proportions and it is happening to older people in shocking numbers. Next week, I’ll explore with you the types of scams out there and other reasons elders more than others fall for them.


Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at, (808) 212-8119 cell/text and


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