A senior citizen receives mail that promises her the opportunity to receive a $10,000 Sweepstakes check but first she has to send the organization a $25 check or she is told to wire money in order to receive the proffered $10K. This same lonely person receives CONSTANT phone calls in which many demands are placed upon her to send money or they will come to her residence and cause her bodily harm.
It doesn’t matter how many times you tell your loved one to hang up when she receives one of these calls. It doesn’t matter how many times you try to convince her that responding to the mail and/or the phone calls will not net her any positive financial results. She always responds, and because she’s still able to mail a check or drive to Western Union and wire money to these nefarious people, she keeps doing so and finds herself in a heap of financial trouble.
Let’s consider the following mail fraud scenario: at a long-term care (LTC) facility, the staff, along with the resident’s family members, changed the resident’s phone number numerous times and rerouted her mail to go elsewhere, but because of the persistence and trickery of these unscrupulous people, they always managed to get through the filters set up to eradicate them. This particular resident’s apartment was finally searched by staff, at the suggestion of local law enforcement and with the permission of the resident, and what they found would make your blood boil. This resident had shoe boxes full of “Sweepstakes” documents, and once the apartment had been cleaned out, over a dozen large garbage bags filled with documents had been removed. Once this resident responded to these criminals by sending money, they had a victim upon which they could rely.
I’m not going to address the issue of identity theft per se which is another prevalent type of fraud exacted upon elderly adults. Let’s concentrate on mail fraud which can certainly lead to identity theft. With mail fraud, which eventually can lead to “phone fraud,” the victim in question is oftentimes isolated, lonely, and as most senior citizens will tell you, is worried about having enough money to get her through her later years. The promise of a $10,000, or higher, windfall is just too good to resist. Let’s be honest with ourselves – we can’t resist this type of temptation either. If you’ve ever purchased a lottery ticket, and I’ve purchased many, you hope beyond all reason that this time the lottery ticket will have the winning numbers, because after all – somebody has to win! When you’re a senior citizen and money is tight, why not hope beyond all hope that the $10K Sweepstakes could be real, as unlikely as that may seem to us?
So how does one put safeguards in place to ward off these types of criminals?
If you live close enough to your elderly loved one, have a look-see around their living space. Do you see any piles of envelopes that look suspiciously like one of these mail fraud schemes? When my father lived in a one-bedroom apartment in an assisted living facility, as he left the room to use the bathroom and/or to take a nap, I did some Irene-sized investigative work. I didn’t stop at simply looking at what was on top of his desk, I rummaged through the drawers. I looked at his checkbook register for suspicious outgoing checks (there were a few.) I tried to discern if there were any Sweepstakes letters from repeat offenders who thanked him for his previous money submission and asking for more – again, there were a few. I know that this investigative activity reeks of privacy invasion but if that meant protecting my very generous father who was in the early stages of dementia – I was willing to do so. And I didn’t stop there. I cleared his desk of all but one or two Sweepstakes envelopes so he wouldn’t notice that absolutely everything was gone, and I stuffed them in my backpack and took them home to shred. If you don’t live close enough to visit on an ongoing basis and suspect that your parent who lives in a long-term care facility is succumbing to this type of mail fraud, call a staff department head and ask him/her to have a look at what is visible on top of your loved one’s desk/coffee table. You shouldn’t ask staff members to open drawers – that’s inappropriate and is actually against most facilities’ resident privacy policies. Once you are aware of a concerning outcome, then you can take steps to provide personal intervention on your loved one’s behalf. A phone call to the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Office located near your loved one will initiate a complaint and that office will attempt to resolve this matter on behalf of the resident – your family member.
Phone fraud harassment – one step closer to elder abuse.
I became aware of a woman who received numerous calls a week from these scammers, threatening her with bodily harm if she didn’t wire the requested funds. These criminals have no conscience whatsoever so they aren’t shy about yelling at the elderly victim; making fun of them when they cry on the phone because they’re afraid of the threats; calling the elderly person a loser and that they’ll never have enough money to carry them through the remainder of their pitiful lives. As cumbersome as it may be, I strongly suggest you have your loved one’s phone number changed. Only those who need to have the number: family, close friends, medical personnel, and facility administration, should be given the new number. You may have to do this several times before the stream of fraudster phone calls come to an end.
Resources on which you can rely.
The AARP website has links to resources that are very informational regarding elder fraud. Once you access their website you can link to the chapter that is active in your local area and you’ll find contact numbers for Fraud Fighter reporting. Additionally, the Attorney General’s Office (Washington State website linked here) is very helpful. Not only can you report cases of fraud through their website, you will also find a list of scams currently making the rounds. Let’s not forget the U.S. Postal Service as well. They have a postal inspection division that walks you through the steps of preventing and/or eliminating mail fraud. I think once you start typing elder fraud into an internet search engine, you’ll find numerous links, such as The Elder Fraud Project, that will prove helpful.
Whatever you do – don’t sit idle and ignore the signs of mail fraud. I can guarantee you that the scammers trying to acquire as much of your loved one’s money as possible are not idle – they’re hard at work to enrich themselves at your loved one’s financial expense.