Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Seniors as Predominant Telemarketing Fraud Victims

Elderly victims commonly receive five or more calls a day from high-pressure telephone sales people once they make their first purchase or contribution.

An Ohio widow lost her life savings of $240,000 to more than fifty fraudulent telemarketers.

A 92-year-old California woman lost $180,000, and then $5,250 more in supposed "recovery" fees to a man who said he could get some of her money back.

A woman in her seventies from another western state was persuaded by a telemarketer to send him $60,000 from her and her husband's retirement fund and, when that was gone, to take out a loan for $13,000 more.

Attitude of Society towards Fraud Victims

One AARP sponsored survey shows that older people who fall for telemarketing scams tend to believe the pitches they hear, that they have a good chance of actually winning the grand prize, and that the products touted are worth the price charged for them.

Ninety percent of survey respondents report awareness of consumer fraud; yet two-thirds said it is hard to spot fraud when it is happening.

Even after the fact, they generally feel that they were not cheated or robbed but that they just didn't get their money's worth.

The survey also showed that elderly victims find it difficult to terminate telephone conversations, even when they say they are not interested in continuing a conversation.

They fail to associate the pleasant voice with a criminal trying to steal their money and do not realize that scammers are not just sleazy salespeople trying to make a living.

Stage in Life for Elderly Scam Victims

In this fast-paced, youth-oriented society elder issues are not high on the social agenda and the elderly tend to be ignored.

Many people live their twilight years in isolation and they are sometimes mentally infirm and frequently lonely.

An alarming number are suffering from debilitating grief over the loss of a lifetime spouse at the precise time they are tapped by a telemarketer.

Telemarketers will collect obituaries from various newspapers so that they can take advantage of recent widows and widowers.

Statistically, wives are often left behind having to make financial decisions, which were often handled by their now deceased husbands.

They are lonely and suffering from ills that make them desperate for someone to talk to.

Thus, many seniors are exploited at a time when they are particularly vulnerable.

Offenders have told police their ideal "mark" is an elderly person, home alone, with no contact with family members.

Their sympathetic tones easily win the trust of the victim as they commiserate over their troubles but assure them that "now your luck has changed, for you've just won a prize worth tens of thousands of dollars".

Financial Situation of Senior Fraud Victims

Fraudulent telemarketers will often target older citizens knowing that many of them may have significant assets from a lifetime of saving, including self-directed retirement accounts, cash reserves, or other assets available to spend on seemingly attractive offers.

Apart from not wanting to ever be a burden on their children, seniors seek to build their nest egg in the hopes of also providing for their grandchildren as well.

They are also reluctant to seek advice or assistance from others about financial matters in general.

Recent retirees or older workers who have lost their jobs through corporate down-sizing are often  attracted to ads touting opportunities to operate their own small business or to work from home.

Affect On Elderly Victim of a Scam

The elderly are not only more susceptible, they tend to be more seriously affected when they are victimized and do not have the time or opportunity for financial recovery; their prime earning years are behind them.

As elders lose their savings, go into debt, mortgage property, or take out credit card advances to pay those exploiting them, even comfortable lifestyles collapse.

Some have lost their homes or been forced to sell them to meet day-to-day living expenses. The impact of fraud on elders can be profound and life-altering.

Fraudulent telemarketers not only rob their victims of their hard-earned financial assets, but also of their human dignity.

Elder fraud victims often find their trust shattered. "I would rather be taken advantage of by someone who placed a gun in my ribs than be cheated by someone I trusted", wrote an elderly victim.

They doubt their judgment. They feel isolated, depressed, angry, and ashamed.

These violations of trust compounded with the subsequent uncertainty about paying bills, often lead to illness.

In fact, seventy-eight percent of elderly victims develop acute and chronic anxiety.

The loss of quality of life or standard of living can be physically and psychologically devastating and irreversible, and victims may become suicidal as a result.

Scammers Thoughts Towards Senior Victims

The evidence indicates that offenders believe older people have more assets and are more susceptible to techniques such as excitement tactics or appeals to altruism.

A con artist will say whatever it takes to separate victims from their money.

They are swindlers who con our senior citizens out of their life savings by playing on trust, sympathy, and sometimes loneliness.

They have also said that they don't fear prosecution because they count on their victims' physical or mental infirmity, perhaps even impending death, or the shame surrounding victimization, to prevent their testimony at trial.

These telemarketers know that the victim, shamed at suffering such losses, often will not even tell friends or family about the scam.

To date, most of the fraud affecting the elderly has been perpetrated through the telephone.

As the elderly begin to use the Internet, fraud operators can be expected to find them through this new channel of communication and commerce.

Sweepstakes Swindle

From Jackie H. Mon, 28 Aug 2000

I am writing this with the hope that you can help me. My elderly parents reside in Greenville, S.C.   I reside in Bryan, Ohio.

Anyhow, my father lives in an assisted living facility and my mother lives alone in their condo.

Several months ago my mother started receiving phone calls from a man in Montreal, Quebec who lead her to believe that she had won $2 million.

Several days and several conversations later,  he told her that she needed to wire him $18,000 to receive her prize.

She did this, without telling anyone, just as he instructed her to do. (This transaction occurred on 6/28/00)

On Aug. 1, 2000 all of this was brought to my attention when a neighbor of my mother's notified my brother who lives in Tennessee.

My mother had ask her to go to the bank with her when two men were to come to town to give her her winnings..... the neighbor became suspicious and then notified us.

I notified the FBI and the Secret Service, I also called an organization in Canada called Phonebusters.

This man is still calling my mother, unaware that she is now on to him (although, in her confused state, it is unclear whether or not she still believes him.....he is telling her the armoured car carrying her money has broken down).

I have a phone number which he uses, and the bank account and bank branch which the money was sent to.

Do you think that you can help me at all.....the US authorities have said that Canadian authorities have been notified, but it seems like they are not too concerned about solving this.

This money was to have been used to help pay for my father's care in the facility he resides in (he suffers from advanced Parkinson's disease and Prostate Cancer).

I will be hoping to hear from you soon.

Hi Jackie,

Your story is all too familiar but heart-breaking none the less. I wish I knew how to fast track your request for police action but with the exception of asking you to notify the FTC and your Attorney General ( who will ensure the longest extraditable jail term ) all I can do is forward your letter on to the Solicitor General Canada and their task force on Telemarketing Fraud which uses Phonebusters as a collection point for complaints.

I will ask them to let you and me know what course of action is usually taken and what else you might do.

Knowing the area code and exchange might allow you to contact the Quebec police fraud squad for that city to also file a complaint.

I would have you ask those you contact for written confirmation of action in the manner of charges being laid.

Although it may be contrary to certain laws, so I can not advise you to do so, I, personally, would still try to tape record the conversations these guys have with your mother.

I would also take your mom down to the bank and establish a joint account for the bulk of her savings, requiring both of your signatures on checks.

If she balks, keep a single account for her spending money with whatever she wants in it, just lock down the rest, if they left her any.

At worst, talk to her bank manager and request that they ignore requests from your mother for large withdrawals without notifying you, ( Note: this would be against bank policy but some managers have a decency which transcends regulations. It would be best to provide them with the power of attorney - if you can get it ).

Stress that being aware of the fraud you will, with your mother's consent, ultimately hold them responsible if they process such requests, knowing them to be of a fraudulent nature.

Pay for a stop payment on any future checks payable to that organization, regardless of amount.

This is all of course assuming you can convince her to go along. Without her consent and written authorization the bank is powerless to act.

In fact, they may refuse to discuss anything related to her account for fear of breaching privacy issues.

Do not expect your mother to listen to your reasoning over the persuasive voice of the fraudster. She will continue to send checks.

I ask your permission to post your plea so that anyone else who might have a suggestion can forward it on.

For now, take care. Les Henderson

Les: You have my permission to post my plea. The FBI is indeed trying to get a taped conversation, but my mother is not good with the device which they gave her.

They did retrieve some of his messages which he left on her answering machine, so that is good.

The bank has been notified and there is a red flag alert on her account if she tries to make large transactions.

We also canceled her credit card. I doubt the crooks will ever be caught, but I am going to keep up my fight so that I can make others more aware of how this can happen in their families so easily.

Thanks for responding. Jackie H.

Dear Les,

First of all, I would like to thank you for your assistance in getting my Mom to be called by the group SeniorBusters, thru the Phonebusters organization.

I have been busy doing a lot of my own research along with some help from a man which Gus from Phonebusters hooked me up with.

He runs a company which specializes in credit card fraud for banks. Gus saw a connection with the phone numbers which I had reported and some of them linked to an investigation which Mr. Whatley was doing.

Anyhow, one interesting thing which I found out.... my Mom purchased three similar items from telemarketers in a three week period in June.

They were from three separate companies but a very similar product...... one of them being the global retrieval system. The purchase amounts were: $299.00, $399.00, and $398.00.

How awful, since she paid the bill. The following week was when she wired the money..... all of this is connected somehow, I am sure.

I have tracked down the mother of the girl which the money was wired to...... I am going to put some pressure on her to return the $18,000.00

Will be in touch.....Jackie

I am going down to stay with my mother (the victim) after her doctor assesses her ability to handle her own finances.

This is a step that my sister and I feel we have had to make to try and get some sort of control of the situation and to help my mother to get her life back.

She does not know she is going for an assessment and will be angry and confused.

If your book is anything like your website, I was hoping to have stories to tell her of other people who had been conned, as to reassure her that these telemarketers are very clever and manipulative.

We're desperate, as we estimate at least $3,000 a month is going out to buy numerous power drills and trinkets and my mother's health is suffering.

She is even reluctant to go to church and has been a devout Catholic all her life.

C.S 04/02/02

I still haven't been able to stop my Mum from entering the "competitions". They seem to have produced obsessive behaviour in her and she is doing more than ever. This now amounts to $150 a day!

I tried doing all the things in your book - not blaming her, helping her to see the extent of the problem, finding alternative activities to occupy her, but to no avail.

I also contacted gamblers anonymous who said that only she could help herself and that she had to reach a point of realisation - usually bankruptcy or an arrest for stealing to feed her habit.

Last time I went to see her, I just flipped and told her what a load of nonsense this was and threw handfuls of the envelopes into a rubbish bag - as I left the house she screamed at me "May you rot in hell you little bitch".

And this from a supposedly devout catholic!

We have since made it up, but she will not stop.

I have also written to some of the scammer companies and sent them a change of address to divert mail to my house.

Luckily I have the same initials and name as her so I am just on the side of the law in doing this.

The banks over here have been no use whatsoever and the same with the post office - they just can't be bothered.

Unfortunately, looking at a lot of the ones she is doing - they say quite clearly that you can phone to find out what prize you have been allocated, that you do not need to send any money or purchase anything and they state the odds of winning a big prize, but she thinks that she will not be treated like a "special" customer unless she sends them something.

You don't know anyone who wants about a thousand pieces of crap jewelry do you?

C.S. 04/23/03

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Articles on Seniors as Telemarketing Fraud Victims

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