It is said that the fastest growing crime in the country is robbing seniors of their savings. Sometimes it is by people that seniors know and trust. Often it is by total strangers. The total damage annually, just among older adults, is over $36 billion.
The sad part is that most seniors never report these crimes. They are embarrassed to have anyone know that they have been exploited. Even if they can get past the embarrassment, they fear being overwhelmed at the idea of involving the police. They also fear that their judgement will be questioned – particularly when the abuser is a family member.
Isolation is a major factor in financial exploitation. And the perpetrator that can isolate a senior has a greater chance of doing the most long-term damage.
Home Improvement Scams
Such scams can jeopardize a senior’s independence by threatening the equity in their home in addition to the money they may take. Seniors are a great target because the likely have savings, equity and good credit. Older people living in homes they have had a long time often have a few modifications that they need or want made to their home. As such they make excellent targets for those dishonest people posing as contractors.
How the Scams Work
Scam artists cost senior homeowners thousands of dollars – and sometimes their homes – in a variety of ways. Here are the most common:
- High Pressure. By using high pressure tactics scam artists attempt to rush seniors into committing to services including roof repairs, sidewalk or driveway repairs. Sometimes there is not even an issue with the roof, sidewalk or driveway, but a scammer will generate a story to create fear.
- Lending Pressure. Sometimes the scam involves getting the homeowner to use a certain lender – even if the contracting services are warranted. These lenders can be legitimate and pay the contractor a commission or illegitimate and create real problems. Some seniors are even conned into taking out a reverse mortgage to pay for repairs.
- Overcharging. Since seniors are even less aware of the costs of work than younger people, they can be scammed by contractors who take advantage of their lack of knowledge.
- Sub-standard work. Similar to overcharging, when sub-standard work is performed, seniors are less likely to recognize or challenge it.
- Impersonating an Inspector. This is where the pressure really gets turned up. A scammer presenting himself as an inspector can claim all sorts of imaginary “violations’ that need to be remedied immediately. The lack of time often causes seniors to purchase unnecessary and overpriced services.
- Natural Disasters. Seniors are particularly vulnerable immediately after a natural disaster. There is often competition for getting help to fix and clean up and the door-to-door scammer can often select from any of the above cons to wreak havoc on the financial life of a senior.
What to Do
Financial scams can happen to anyone. Seniors are the most vulnerable. The best way to avoid such situations is to discuss them with your senior in advance to make him or her aware of what to look for. If he or she has been the victim of a financial crime contact the local police department in addition to any senior-specific agencies in your area.
If a senior has been victim of a fraudulent transaction, there may be remedies from special organizations set up for seniors who have been defrauded. The best place to start is the District Attorney’s office unless you can find something more specific by doing an online search.