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Queens Chronicle

SENIOR LIVING GUIDE Staying alert to scams and financial fraud

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019 10:30 am

“Staying aware will help you avoid or limit the fallout if there are any problems.”

This is one bit of advice offered by the NOLO website, an online legal encyclopedia, aimed particularly at senior citizens who are the most likely victims of a wide variety of schemes, scams and frauds.

Take the case of one older Flushing resident, who wished to remain anonymous, who shared a personal experience that could prove a valuable lesson to others.

“My wife, and kids and I were on vacation in Canada,” he said. “We stopped at a gas station and told the guy that we were on vacation. We said too much. We should have kept our mouths shut.”

What happened next, he said, was that the attendant put through multiple transactions on his credit card.

“American Express called saying they noticed a large number of transactions, at $75 a pop,” he explained. The gas station attendant could have potentially wiped out his credit card.

“He didn’t get away with it, but he tried,” the intended victim said.

Many other senior targets aren’t so lucky.

“More and more seniors are being scammed,” according to Det. Tanya Duhaney, a Community Affairs officer at the 113th Precinct in Jamaica.

A new trick, she said, involves phone callers soliciting money, saying they represent various police associations.

“If the phone number is unknown, don’t answer the phone,” Duhaney advises.

And there are plenty of other ways to try to protect yourself.

Seniors are often seen as easy targets, expecting honesty in the marketplace and being less likely to take action.

One of the most common forms of elder abuse is financial fraud, which frequently involves the improper use of a person’s money or other property.

It is believed to be widespread but many cases go unreported, according to NOLO.

The forging of signatures on legal documents is also seen as a common practice among scam artists.

The site also suggests that scammers use the telephone to conduct credit card fraud, lottery scams and identity theft, and indicates that, according to the United States Department of Justice, dishonest telemarketers take in an estimated $40 billion each year.

It further states that, according to AARP, about 80 percent of the victims are 50 years of age or older.

NOLO warns that other common schemes are varied and widespread: Getting unauthorized access to funds, often involving individuals posing as suitors who woo older people; charging excessive amounts of money for goods or services used mainly by seniors, such as hearing aids and safety alert devices; obtaining money or property by duping victims by convincing them it’s for their own good; procuring a power of attorney, will or other legal documents to gain access to an individual’s possessions.

A particularly popular approach involves the offer of false prizes.

“You have won the lottery,” a caller might say, asking the intended victim to wire money for fees and taxes in order to collect. This type of mass marketing fraud is said to generate around $1 billion a year.

And unsolicited home repair work is something else to be wary of, especially when payment is demanded up front.

According to the FBI’s website, “Senior citizens are most likely to have a nest egg, to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit, all of which make them attractive to con artists.”

Con artists are also drawn to seniors because of their tendency to be polite and trusting, and less likely to know to whom to report a fraud. And seniors are seen as poor potential witnesses, due to the effects of age on memory. Often the elderly are too ashamed to report that they have been scammed.

The FBI warns against potentially counterfeit prescription drugs, which may be hazardous to one’s health.

Another major area of concern is with healthcare fraud, which could involve federal or private insurance programs, as is investment fraud, including offers using false claims to solicit investments or loans.

There are various warning signs that elder abuse is taking place, indications that those close to seniors should watch for.

These include:

• unusual or large withdrawals from bank accounts or uncharacteristically large credit card charges;

• checks that are unaccounted for;

• elderly individuals suddenly forming a close relationship with someone, frequently younger persons;

• newly-executed documents, such as a will or power of attorney;

• changes in account beneficiaries;

• a large number of unpaid bills;

• missing property; and

• sudden social isolation.

Duhaney suggests that anyone who believes they may have been a victim of a scam should either call or go to any police station and ask for assistance.

If you receive a letter in the mail that you deem suspicious, she advises you to bring it to a precinct and someone will look into the matter.

“If it’s a scam, we’ll tell you on the spot,” she said.

In an ironic twist, she has seen cases in which an individual receives a telephone call while at the police station.

“We’ll take the call. As soon as we say we’re the police, they hang up,” she said.

Duhaney admits that ridding society of such practices is not an easy task. But she said the police department is doing what it can to spread the word, via social media, appearances at senior centers and through the distribution of flyers.

Capt. Jonathan Cermeli, the commanding officer of the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills, agrees that education is the key.

“I try to get the awareness out there,” he said. “I advise everyone to call us first if you think something is sketchy. Scams are all over the place.”

If you suspect you are the victim of fraud or abuse, NOLO advises you to notify bank personnel, as they are in a good position to detect suspicious activity.

One can also get help from a senior services group. Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 can direct you to local programs and services. Other recommended contacts are Adult Protective Services, a government-affiliated agency that investigates elder financial abuse and the NYPD, as the police will intervene where there is evidence that a crime is involved.

Welcome to the discussion.