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I recently found out that a relative in her late 80s was duped. She fell for it.

How could that happen? She is a vibrant, smart, and engaged woman who has not suffered from

cognitive decline.

Nevertheless, she handed $6,000 in cash to a “detective” claiming that her granddaughter was arrested on charges of DWI and needed bail money. She told me that she spoke to her granddaughter who implored her not to tell her parents about the arrest. Her granddaughter was pleading for help and sounded so convincing. Classic, right?

When I heard about this, I reached new heights of incredulity. How could she believe that Especially since this episode occurred on the first Monday in December, the same day that her granddaughter started a new job. She was working remotely from her childhood bedroom. Her grandmother knew that. Why would her granddaughter, who has no history with substance abuse, be out drinking and driving? And no less in the middle of a workday during a pandemic?

But the scammers – through a series of phone calls – were successful in unnerving my relative and persuading her to withdraw the cash from her bank account and hand it off to this “detective” in the lobby of her building which has gatekeepers and doormen. So much for the presumption of security at the visitor’s gate and in the lobby. But that’s a subject to address at a later date.

Fortunately, my relative can withstand the loss of $6,000. Notwithstanding that, she learned an

expensive and valuable lesson. Most of us have probably heard about these scams and schemes

targeting the oldest Americans, one of the country’s most vulnerable populations. Some of your family members, friends, or clients may have similarly fallen prey to such tactics.

I am disclosing my family’s recent experience to highlight just how many seniors are subjected to well-orchestrated campaigns which pull at their heartstrings and put them in financial jeopardy. I am almost embarrassed to reveal that this happened in my family. But I know it doesn’t reflect on my ability and track record of protecting those who are at risk due to age, disability, or illness. If it can happen in my family, it can happen in any family.

I can tell you about a client in her early 90s who was forced into a nursing home after she took out a $700,000 reverse mortgage on her home and gifted the proceeds to organizations which feed the donkeys and other animals in Africa. Really? I had no idea that donkeys were indigenous to Africa. So while the wildlife are overly satiated and freely roaming the African plains, my client is eating pureed food and confined to a shared room in a Brooklyn care facility.

And during the pandemic, the children of an 88 year-old client came to my office armed with a stack of envelopes from numerous quasi-political and non-profit organizations which their mother had been regularly supporting. Inside the flap of each envelope was a handwritten notation indicating the check number and amount donated. Her family concluded that the correspondence provided a feeling of connectedness during the social isolation resulting from the quarantine. Such connectedness came at a price tag of more than $5,000.

These are just three examples of elder financial abuse which has been called the crime of the 21st century. While these scams are not new, they have become increasingly more prevalent during the pandemic. And it seems as if the scammers have become increasingly more brazen.

As I was writing this piece, I literally received an alert on my Apple watch with a Wall Street Journal article in the January 23, 2021 edition titled “How to Protect Seniors from Online Fraud and Phone Scams.” The timing was both impeccable and a bit unsettling. The article highlights the issue and provides practical suggestions and links to resources to safeguard assets and combat scams and schemes. It is essential that we start or continue to warn and educate our clients, friends, and family members about financial elder abuse, a crime which is typically underreported. The scammers must be stopped before they strip unwitting seniors of their independence, dignity, and finances.

I spoke with my relative last weekend. She told me that she received a phone call from her oldest grandson named Benjamin (wrong name) asking for money as he was in some sort of crisis. Uh oh, I thought, here we go again. But this time she promptly hung up the phone. Fool her twice? No way. Go Grandma!


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