Providing Assistance to Senior Fraud Victims
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 social conscience.
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 self-sustaining relative.
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
|a 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|
|a 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 prizes"|
|numerous 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|
|secretive behaviour regarding numerous telephone calls throughout the day that are long in duration|
|receiving unsolicited phone calls from fast-talking operators offering "fantastic" opportunities to claim prizes or make sure-fire investments|
|chequing 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 orders|
|payments being picked up by private or commercial couriers or making wire transfers of funds|
|suddenly and inexplicably having money-related problems buying food or paying bills|
|requests for loans or cash|
|many magazines or books of inappropriate subject matter for the reader's interests (Young Bride, Extreme Surfing)|
|books 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 the phone.
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 the situation.
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 courtesy victim".
What to Do for Telemarketing Fraud Victims
|avoid blame and avoid calling them stupid, greedy or foolish - don't lecture.|
|ask why they purchase as often as they do and if they are satisfied with the products.|
|have them compare the actual value of prizes they've won with the money they've spent entering contests|
|talk about the difference between entering a sweepstakes for fun and spending so much on sweepstakes that personal necessities are neglected|
|offer to help them evaluate promotional offers and the chances of winning|
|try to think of them rather than your lost inheritance|
|don't threaten to take over their finances as they will become even more secretive and resentful|
|help to show them it is a serious crime|
|help them get an unlisted number|
|volunteer 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 in trouble.
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.