Alas, grifters have always been with us. Just think of the saying, “If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you!”

That saying has its roots in a con more than a century old: George Parker (1860-1936) became famous for “selling” New York landmarks to unsophisticated, newly arrived immigrants or tourists. The New York native set up phony offices, created fraudulent deeds, and “sold” the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, and Grant’s Tomb. He “sold” the Brooklyn Bridge multiple times, once netting $50,000, a fortune in those days.

Today, turbocharged by email and the Internet, scammers are everywhere and more sophisticated. Practically everyone has access to the Web from their phone, computer, or tablet. Thus, on the flip side, scammers have access to nearly everyone.

Several scams have targeted my practice. My practice, along with other medical providers, was held hostage by ransomware last year. Luckily, we had excellent tech support and escaped reasonably unscathed. Someone sent an email to our office saying that we needed to reenter our online credentials with Wells Fargo. There’s just one problem: my business doesn’t bank with Wells Fargo.

Elders, who may be lonely and unaware of this explosion of scamming, can be particularly susceptible to those who would dishonestly separate them from their money. Almost every week, I come across an elder who has brushed up against one of these dishonest actors.

Here are some of the classic scams that I have seen directed at elders:

  • The Lottery. An email (or sometimes a paper letter) says you have a chance to win thousands but must send them a little money upfront. I cared for one man who sent thousands and thousands to these lotteries. He never won a penny.
  • Charities. Lists of people sending money to charities get circulated. Of course, there are many good causes. But many elders don’t remember when they last gave, so they send some money every time they’re asked. This can add up to hundreds and thousands of dollars.
  • Giveaways. If you send money or financial information, you will get a bigger reward! Except that the reward never arrives, and the elder can be out big bucks.
  • International Emergency. You have a grandchild, or a nephew, or a good friend who’s overseas unexpectedly and is in dire need (fill in the crisis: lost their passport, needs medical care, etc., etc.) You need to send money right away to help them! I know of one case where an elder lost $600,000 this way.
  • Dating Sites. Alas, there are people out there who target older women and then ask them for money.

Just a few measures can keep you and your elder safe from the scammers.

  • Check Mail & Email. If at all possible, ask your elder if you can take a look at their mail and email periodically.
  • Immediate Action. Beware of anything that comes via email that insists you need to take action.
  • Verify. Before you react to a request, check the situation via phone or in person. If someone says your bank account is overdrawn, call your bank and doublecheck. Or visit your local bank branch to check.
  • Protect information. Don’t give out personal or financial information to anyone, even if they say they are from your bank or the Internal Revenue Service. Banks and the IRS don’t call customers and yell at them for financial details.

Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s quite likely a scam. Step back. Think a minute. Then delete the email, hang up the phone, or toss the mail request into recycling.

Stay safe out there.

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