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The scammers who bilked seniors out of more than half a billion dollars


There should be a special place in Hades for the criminals who commit financial fraud against seniors.

No one deserves to be a victim of a scam, but it’s particular heinous when perpetrated on people who are living on fixed incomes or surviving on savings they can’t replenish.

Many of the financial crimes against seniors go unreported because the victim are too embarrassed to tell anyone or report the fraud to the authorities.

Read more: 82-year-old grandmother commits suicide after falling for scam

So I was thrilled recently to see that federal and state law enforcement officials joined forces to round up more than 250 people accused of financial schemes that targeted seniors.

Read more: Oregon woman accused of trying to kill 2 senior citizens, siphoning away $500k

Some examples of the elder financial exploitation prosecuted by the department included:

— Lottery phone scams. Callers convince seniors that they have to pay a fee or taxes before receiving the lottery proceeds.

— Guardianship scams. Family, friend or recent acquaintances will siphon seniors’ money into their own bank accounts.

— IRS impostor scams. Con artists call and pretend to be an IRS agent claiming that victims owe back taxes.

Read more: That is NOT the IRS Calling You!

— Grandparent scams. Seniors are tricked into believing that a grandchild has been arrested and needs bail money.

Read more: How this Best Buy is stopping grandparent scammers in their tracks

— Romance scam. In this loathsome scheme, victims are persuaded to send money to someone they’ve met online.

More than two-thirds of caretakers reported that a scammer had targeted their elderly relatives, according to a survey of more than 1,700 people conducted by the Cooperative Credit Union Association, a New England-based trade group.

The survey found that, most often, the attempted fraud was initiated with a telephone call. Nearly 22 percent of scam attempts were made via email or another online contact.

“While regulators are working hard to address the scourge of financial fraud, education is key, particularly with hundreds of millions of Americans’ personal information readily available to criminals,” said Paul Gentile, president and chief executive of the association. “All financial consumers need to take steps to protect themselves financially and digitally, including by being aware of the latest trends in frauds and scams.”

A quarter of the caregivers surveyed said that they had not even discussed financial abuse with their elder relative or friend.

Want more information on how to stamp out elder financial abuse? Read the following.

— With every data breach comes an increased need for fraud sentinels for seniors.
Equifax breach may mean scammers can target more seniors

— From How to Stop Fraudsters From Preying on Elderly Americans
“A 2017 AARP study states that over half of all U.S. financial fraud victims are over the age of 70, and that 90 percent of investment fraud victims were more than 50 years old. A separate study from the North American Securities Administrators Association notes that 97 percent of fraud prevention specialists say that “most cases” of senior financial fraud go undetected rather than being discovered before they cause serious problems.”

— From Consumer Reports: New Ways to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

Report Fraud and Senior Scams with Help from ElderWatch – AARP

— From the Chicago Tribune: How to spot elder financial abuse

Please help detect and deter elder financial abuse.

Your thoughts
Have you been a victim or elder financial abuse or do you know a senior who has? Tell me about it. Send your comments to

Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise.

If you haven’t retired, what concerns you financially? You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

Last week I asked you to weigh in on this question: Should you retire your debt before retiring?

Bill Sheets of Oregon wrote, “I am now 62 years old and was able to retire about four years ago. At that time, we had my two pensions from public service work and my wife’s Social Security. I would not have been able to retire if we hadn’t paid off ALL our debt. Our house is mortgage free. We have no debts (car owned free and clear and no credit card balances.) I just filed for my Social Security, which, with my wife’s spousal benefit, nearly doubled our income. We both have private pension accounts which we will access later. We both feel very secure financially. The only worry is health care. I purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act and pay $245 a month for my policy, which is a “Bronze” HSA plan with a $5,000 deductible. My wife has Medicare Advantage. All of this took planning and a high income ($100,000 for several years.) Not everyone will be as fortunate as us.”

“As a 64-year-old physician, I retired in 2007 with a modest $3.5 million in my retirement portfolio,” N.T. wrote. “My life partner is 15 years younger. In addition to a few other assets, we owned two homes: a primary residence and a vacation home in the Caribbean, both with mortgages. Our financial advisers assured that we should be fine. Then, 2008 hit. We lost almost half of our assets. Over the next nine years, we sold the vacation condo and downsized to a cheaper primary residence. Still, we were eroding principal. Now, our household expenses are a manageable less than $2,000 per month, but we still have a mortgage. Currently, our biggest expense is health care. My partner in only 61 and not eligible for Medicare. ACA is very expensive with high deductibles. We spend almost $2,500 per month for insurances, meds, etc. My advice: Do not retire with a mortgage, if at all possible.”

Lin Shaub of Allentown, Penn., wrote, “I’m four years out from qualifying for Social Security, which is the only thing keeping me from hitting the road right now. I will pay off my mortgage in three and a half years. I plan to buy an RV and sell my house. I have many friends who either lost homes or refinanced during the mortgage crisis and never really recouped. I was able to stay afloat by scraping by and refinancing each time the mortgages rates got lower. Never took a penny of the equity when I refinanced. It’s been a tough 10 years of no vacations and squeezing pennies and I hope it pays off. I’ve worked hard and can’t wait to hit the road.”

Kitty, who identified herself as the golfer from Long Beach, Calif., wrote, “I’m 58 and planning to retire in six to 12 months. (I am blessed with a pension, a 401 (k), IRA and S&P 500 mutual fund.) When I met with my certified financial planner, he said my $265,000 in mortgage debt ‘was not much for California.’ I was bemused; I suppose it’s all relative. Fortunately, it’s 15-year fixed at 3.25 percent.”

“My wife and I, along with the assistance of a financial planner, built a road map to retirement with a target date of 2012, when we turned 65,” wrote Anthony from Florida. “Since we have always lived below our means, we were able to retire our only debt, our home mortgage, in 2000. This allowed us to max out our qualified contributions and add to our non-qualified investments and savings contributions as well. We entered retirement with no debt. We continue to pay all credit card usage in full each month. We’ve also paid cash for cars. However, we did make a major concession in replacing our 2010 car and taking out a loan with a substantial down payment for a new 2018 car. We took the loan out based on manufacturer’s incentives and rate. We plan to pay the car loan off early, once the rate incentive expires as we view any debt in retirement as a capital ‘B’ bad debt.”

On having a mortgage and retirement in general.
Mike Vitacco of Suwanee, Ga., wrote, “I’m a retired engineer who has a mortgage due to downsizing. I retired at 66 and collected Social Security then. I’ve got two small pensions as well. Using Medicare and a good supplemental plan to manage health care, and fortunately I’m in very good health. I did a lot of my retirement planning. I wanted to wait until 70 to retire and claim Social Security; but I’m in good health and wanted to have a life after work. My mortgage payment is no more than an apartment rent, and I’m not affected by the new tax law at all. I continue to itemize, and consider Georgia to be a better state for retirees than most others. I love retirement, and the best thing about it is that you never need to set your alarm clock again! My wife (a schoolteacher) and I raised 3 beautiful children with only one rule for us, no day care. We did not start saving until she went back to work full time after raising the youngest to school age, I was 40 when I started our 401(k). My advice to youth today is to study well, get a good education which leads to a good job; and have a plan to save for retirement. And of course, take care of your health because without good health planning all the money in the world will not help you in retirement if you are too ill to enjoy it.”

Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

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