Scamming Seniors

Our care management staff meets monthly for a team meeting where we stay STOPupto date with resources and issues that impact those we serve, discuss cases and have an administrative update.  At yesterday’s  team meeting, US Postal Inspector Steven Watai spoke with us about the scams that have defrauded many people, primarily older adults, out of thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, because many seniors are vulnerable, many live alone and a decent amount have money or are willing to risk the money, they fall for these scams.  Perhaps my phrase “willing to risk it”  would be more accurate if I said desperate enough – one of the biggest concerns of older adults is that they will run out of money before they die.  Between rumors of cuts to social security and medicare and the recession, some older adults find themselves in a tight spot and make poor judgement calls.  Both of the lectures I’ve heard, related stories about older adults losing double and triple digit thousands of dollars.  One lost over $100,000 because she took out a loan on her house.  Indeed, there was a news report about a man who lost his family home because he mortgaged it for one of these scams.  He now speaks out about this type of fraud.

We’ve all received pieces of mail that we know are fake; the airline tickets, the “You’ve won a Million Dollars” – which in letters too small for many older adults to catch – clarifies that you have a chance to win that money.  I suspect most of us shred it up and send it on its merry way to recycling or trash heaven.  I’ll admit, clipart_contest-1-I’ve held on to a piece or two when I’m longing to leave town for a tempting paradise island but it eventually hits the trash because it’s not worth the risk.  However, for some people it is worth the risk – and even as the story grows fishier the lure hits that sweet spot and snags people.

What do I mean by fishy?  Often scammers will request the tax money up front.  And yes, we do need to pay taxes, but if it’s real, taxes will be deducted from the winnings.  Sometimes the “winner”  will receive a real check.  It’s not the full amount and the victim is asked to cash the check immediately, while simultaneously sending a money order or cash.  Needless to say, the check bounces as soon as the money is sent.  Or they prey upon our giving hearts.  Has anyone heard from their cousin rotting away in a foreign jail cell?  How many of us has sent an email or called our cousin just to make sure, especially the first time we saw this email? I think for me they chose the wrong cousin, whom I knew to be safe and sound.

If you, a family member, or the neighbor around the corner receive one of these notices, please get rid of them.  If someone has been a victim, have them report it to the US Postal Service Postal Inspectors.  These are federal employees who investigate mail fraud.  Visit their website, and look for the link under “contact us” to file a report.  This particular link alerts you to the schemes that are out there.  Urgent matters should be directed to your local police station.

You may also be aware of other schemes that take advantage of older adults.  Your local Triad group, a group set up in each community to educate and reduce crimes against seniors, may have information on these schemes.  This might include the people who come to your door noticing that you have a tree that needs trimming.  Nice service, but they may overcharge or never do the work despite receiving a down payment.  

Become informed and educate those around you.

Christine Bitzer, LICSW, is the Assistant Director of Seabury Resources for Aging’s Care Management service.   Care managers work with older adults on an individual basis to advise them on a variety of issues and services; such as home care, transportation, medical/legal assistance and housing. Families are put at ease having a knowledgeable guide to provide recommendations and resources to meet their unique needs. This expertise can save families money and reduce stress and time away from work. Christine can be reached at (202) 364-0020 or email her at


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