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The older we get, the more attractive we become — to fraudsters. Preying on those breakdowns that come with age, from hearing loss to loneliness, criminals tailor special scams with seniors in mind. Financial crimes against the elderly are rampant. Bank accounts are being quietly wiped out. Afraid, betrayed, blaming themselves for being fooled — believe me, I’ve seen it — victims hesitate to call the cops. For most of us, these crimes are scroll-over territory because seniors and what happens to them aren’t sexy. Members of the elderly crowd having their purses snatched by phony plumbers or being convinced to buy shares in companies that don’t exist? We don’t want to go there. Fraudsters do. Maybe one of them is ringing your mother’s doorbell right now


1. “You’ve Already Won….”

Official-looking documents designed to trick recipients into thinking they’ve won money are worded carefully so as to stay legal. These documents hide crucial information (e.g., the fact that they’re not really prize announcements) in tiny italic type — because reading italics is much harder for people with low vision than reading upright fonts. Following “instructions,” recipients send checks that they believe are processing fees to faraway post-office boxes. The amounts are small — from $5 to $50 –but they add up, given that individual scammers typically operate several fake-sweepstakes scams simultaneously. Addresses of those who send checks are sold to other scammers; more sweepstakes letters pour in. “It plays on the emotions,” says Melodye Kleinman of the National Telemarketing Victim Call Center . In one recent case NTVCC handled, an 88-year-old widow spent over $60,000 on fake sweepstakes in just two years.

2. Talk to Me

Seniors are prime targets for sleazy telemarketers “because they’re usually home during the day when the calls come in,” Kleinman says. “They’re lonely, so they’ll talk” to friendly-sounding strangers who call and ask them questions about themselves, then tell them they’ve won prizes or offer “great deals” on nonexistent merchandise, services, or financial plans. In order to claim these nonexistent prizes or deals — and to cover alleged postage and handling or first-installment fees — victims divulge their credit-card and bank-account numbers. “We want to convince people just to hang up” when strangers call, Kleinman says. “But there’s a human tendency to share information about yourself if someone asks for it in a certain way.”

3. Spectral Startups

This is telemarketing mixed with the long con, a sophisticated process that comprises half of NTVCC’s cases. Calling seniors whom they suspect are fairly well-off — especially seniors who were or are businesspeople –scammers proffer bogus investment opportunities. “The callers say, ‘I’ve got a great deal for you; we can move on it really fast,'” Kleinman says. “They say, ‘If you had invested in Microsoft, think how rich you’d be now. Well, this is a similar opportunity, so let’s get started. Can I have your $50,000 right now?'” Some victims fork it over. Some ask for evidence — and are sent authentic-looking materials detailing nonexistent projects and companies. Many involve films, Kleinman says: “They promise that you’ll get to walk down the red carpet with big stars.” In one recent case, a man with dementia “invested” in a nonexistent series of religious films for children. NTVCC called in the FBI; the scammer was arrested and convicted.

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