Providing Assistance to Senior
Even non-violent crime can be emotionally, physically, and spiritually
devastating. Because they have particular difficulty being their
own advocates, elderly victims should have a special claim on our
Elders, more often than not, live on fixed incomes, many at or
below the poverty level. Too often, fraud means some go without food,
medication or other necessities. At a time in life when one
tries to conserve assets, a blow to financial security is often a
permanent and life-threatening setback. Families also feel
the impact indirectly, if they are called upon to support a formerly
Just as parents seek to protect their children from harm, so may
adult children protect their parents from financial loss at the hands
of unscrupulous operators preying on the elderly.
Warning Signs to be Aware Of
marked increase in the amount of mail with too-good-to-be-true
offers such as lots of junk mail for contests, free
trips, prizes, sweepstakes, lotteries
house crowded with cheap items such as costume jewelry, watches,
pens, small appliances, radios, beauty products, plastic
cameras, vitamins, water filters or other items purchased
in order to "win" something or received as "valuable
calls and requests or cheques for multiple contributions
to the same charities or to several charities that do not
seem to be of interest to the contributor
behaviour regarding numerous telephone calls throughout
the day that are long in duration
unsolicited phone calls from fast-talking operators offering "fantastic" opportunities
to claim prizes or make sure-fire investments
account shows escalating withdrawals to unfamiliar, out of
province/state companies or individuals with many checks
to the same companies or duplicate payments for the same
being picked up by private or commercial couriers or making
wire transfers of funds
and inexplicably having money-related problems buying food
or paying bills
for loans or cash
magazines or books of inappropriate subject matter for the
reader's interests (Young Bride, Extreme Surfing)
on how to enter and win sweepstakes
Some consumers may not understand the hype of sweepstakes offersor
that they do not have to place an order to win. They may be convinced
by the large print promises and not understand or be able to read
the restrictive fine print.
If you know that someone in your family, such as a sibling or
a parent, appears to have been defrauded by a telemarketer, you
should avoid confronting that person directly and stating that
he or she has been "duped" or "swindled."
The psychology of telemarketing fraud is complex. Victims can
get lured into the scam if they let their guard down. Then they're
afraid to tell relatives. We shouldn't blame the victims; we should
blame the criminals. If you get mugged, nobody blames you for being
a victim. It stands to reason then that we shouldn't blame vulnerable people who are unlucky enough to get robbed over
Particularly in cases where an older parent may be the victim
of telemarketing fraud, the victim is likely to fear that others
will try to take away his or her independence or to take over their
affairs, and may become highly resistant to your efforts to address
Unfortunately, a number of adult children whose parents were victimized
have reported that their efforts to try to confront the problem
resulted only in creating severe strains on, and even apparently
irreparable damage to, their relationships.
Some fraudulent telemarketers have been known to persuade victims
that they are more concerned about the victim's welfare than the
victim's own family, whom they try to portray as greedy. Some people
are so convinced that they even rebuke direct warnings from law
enforcement or consumer protection groups after they themselves
call for reassurance that the offers are true.
The longer the telemarketer can keep the victim on the phone the
better likelihood of a sale. Anything you can do to put distance
and time between the fraudulent telemarketer and the targeted victim
the better. Unfortunately, many seniors don't have answering machines
or voice mail. They often don't know how to use them or they may
be afraid of losing calls. People worried about their parents getting
scammed should give them an answering machine and make sure they
use it to screen calls. This deprives con artists of "the
What to Do for Telemarketing Fraud Victims
blame and avoid calling them stupid, greedy or foolish -
why they purchase as often as they do and if they are satisfied
with the products.
them compare the actual value of prizes they've won with
the money they've spent entering contests
about the difference between entering a sweepstakes for fun
and spending so much on sweepstakes that personal necessities
to help them evaluate promotional offers and the chances
to think of them rather than your lost inheritance
threaten to take over their finances as they will become
even more secretive and resentful
to show them it is a serious crime
them get an unlisted number
to help balance their checkbooks so as to "avoid bank charges" and politely inquire about any questionable
checks or sudden, large withdrawals
||offer to check any credit card statements to make certain they contain only authorized purchases
||see if they are receiving unsolicited
sweepstakes or lottery offers by offering
to pick up the mail. They are most likely on a "sucker list" being circulated amongst various con artists if they responded to even one.
||you could even have someone nearby help check their mail every day
Reporting the Crime of Telemarketing Fraud
Unfortunately, many elder victims are too embarrassed to report
the crime as they often experience shame or embarrassment about
losing large amounts.
Often, elders are not aware they have been defrauded or feel that
reporting will do no good, or they don't want to "bother" the
police. Sometimes, they are reluctant to confront their greatest
fear - that they will be considered incompetent to handle their
own financial affairs. In elder abuse cases when the perpetrator
is a loved one or their caregiver they just don't want to get them
When elders do reach out, help is rarely available. Policy debates
about crime and its victims focus on victims of violent crime,
virtually to the exclusion of victims of nonviolent property crimes.
A recent national survey of victim assistance programs reveals,
only 8 of the 184 responding programs indicated that they intervene
on behalf of elder abuse victims, including victims of financial
exploitation. Even when elder victims of fraud do report, it is
often to a social agency already providing services to them, and
it is common for their complaints not to be passed on to the police.
For cases that find their way to the criminal justice system,
police, prosecutors, judges, and jurors may discount elderly witnesses,
failing to distinguish between mental incapacity and physical infirmity.
They may be unable to recall details of the fraud, or be unable
or unwilling to explain the true impact on their lives. This can
conceal the seriousness of the offense from friends, relatives,
police and the courts which sentence the offenders.
"One of the problems we run up against with this type of
crime is that elderly citizens are less likely to remember exactly
how or when a transaction took place. It's hard to investigate
an alleged wrongdoing when the complainant can't provide enough
of a lead to do a follow-up, and you can't win a case in court
when the prosecuting witness can't come up with enough evidence
to nail the offender," said Postal Inspector John Brugger,
National Public Information Officer for the Inspection Service.
Victims also sometimes die or become incapacitated before they
can testify, particularly where the accused must be extradited
before they can be prosecuted. They are often physically unable
to travel to testify at trials held in the jurisdictions of the
offenders or other victims.
Before they have come to terms with the fact that they have been
defrauded, telemarketing fraud victims are often reluctant to talk
with others about their dealings with the telemarketer, to
admit how many transactions they have done, or how much money they
have actually lost. Patience is therefore essential in establishing
and maintaining a dialogue with the possible victim, and in trying
to learn as much information as possible that could help before
reporting it to the authorities and assistance agencies.
Again, statements that may sound judgmental or critical are likely
to stiffen their resistance to talking about their dealings with
the telemarketers, and to make them suspicious of your motives
in raising the subject.
A better tactic is to approach the matter indirectly and exercise
patience in talking with the person about your concerns. It should
not offend the person's dignity if you mention that people have
to be careful about telemarketing scam artists, and suggest that
it is wise to consult other sources of information before trusting
your money to someone.
Having discussed the vulnerability of seniors to such criminal
tactics we shall move on to victims in other age categories to
dispel the notion that it is solely a problem affecting the elderly.
Articles on assisting telemarketing fraud victims.