Scams against the elderly: Know the danger signs

News of yet another investment scam is alarming enough, but when the victim is elderly, the crime seems especially offensive. Senior citizens are a favorite target of con artists for a variety of reasons. Here are some popular schemes to look out for.

Scams take many forms, but those involving gold and precious metals are especially problematic right now. Buying gold is trendy, and it can appeal to a senior’s desire for tangible security. Naturally, scammers will take advantage of this appeal. If someone you know is elderly and considering a gold-related investment, make sure they do their homework and work with a reputable company. Anyone pitching gold as a safety net against doomsday scenarios or hyperinflation should be carefully vetted.

Of course, more traditional investment vehicles can also be dangerous. Life insurance, annuities, and other potentially complex deals can be marketed to prey on an elderly person’s fear of running out of money. Investment advisors should only offer products suitable for the age, health, and financial wherewithal of their client. A perfectly legitimate investment can still be all wrong given certain circumstances.

By now, repetitive e-mail requests from some foreigner to wire funds to your bank account might seem almost comical, but to those who fall victim to a carefully crafted ploy, it is all too serious. Some very smart people – young and old – have been taken in by these types of scams, and when it happens to an elderly person, the fear of looking stupid and incompetent often adds to the problem. Educate the senior in your life to always reject these offers.

Not only do the elderly dread running out of money, they sometimes have an unhealthy concern for being a burden to others. This can manifest itself in attempts to prepay for certain services, or sign up for strategies that will pay for bills owed at the time of death. Every so often, when the time comes to cash in these plans, the company is nowhere to be found, or the policy doesn’t cover nearly as much as was expected. Like any other investment, the company behind the pitch should be scrutinized.

So, can you protect your senior from all the criminals out there? Probably not. But creating a fire wall around your loved one might call for a softer touch. Stay connected to their daily routine. Who are they spending time with? What are they reading? Become a stronger presence in their life, and the fears and loneliness that often initiate a wrong financial move could be reduced.

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