By Gregory Bresiger | nypost.com
The scammers have older Americans in their crosshairs. They want to steal their lifetime savings and investments.
So your parents, grandparents, or very possibly you, could be the victim of financial elder abuse, say senior-citizen advocate groups.
“Each year, elder financial abuse costs Americans more than $36 billion, and 1 in every 5 seniors — age 65 or older — has been abused financially,” according to a paper by Caring Transitions, a relocation services and estate-sales services provider.
Stopping the problem is complicated, say senior citizen advocates. That’s because abuses are often committed by people the elderly person knows, and the abuses are often never investigated.
“Just 1 in 44 financial elder abuse cases are ever reported,” according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.
The abuses include theft of valuables, credit card scams and false shipment, as well as home repair and moving scams.
For example, an elderly person who needs to move his or her household goods across states will often be targeted by “a rogue mover.” This is an unlicensed firm that is offering an incredibly cheap rate.
“Rogue movers tend to outsource their moves to unskilled laborers,” says Nan Hayes, director of business development at Caring Transitions, adding rogues typically do not offer insurance to protect the client against damage and theft.
Another scam is a company offering to sell a person’s estate, but actually undervaluing it and pocketing the difference.
“Know what to look for from your estate-sale provider, such as insurance, a legal contract and reliable testimonials,” Hayes says.
A common scam is the phony home-repair contractor. The AARP says this contractor will seem to be doing work next door and will then offer to work on your home.
“We’re in the area working on your neighbor’s property,” the scammer will say. “And I see you need water remediation.”
“Basically, they scare an older person by saying there’s serious water damage to the home,” says David Geibel, a senior vice president with Girard Partners in King of Prussia, Pa.
When using a home contractor, AARP officials say, “whenever possible, close friends or relatives should be present during a contract signing or when home repairs are done to decrease the risk of contractor fraud.”
If you or a loved one are a victim of such abuses or suspect it, the National Center on Elder Abuse can direct you to an elder-abuse hotline.
What can the victim or his or her children do to combat the financial abuse?
- Understand how a provider is qualified to serve you. As the estate sale industry is unregulated and can be a haven for scam artists and unethical companies, it is important to ask the company how its staff has been trained and certified, including in individual fields of expertise. Ask about professional standards, including industry exams, independent industry certification and background screening.
- Seek out client references: Any professional organization should be able to provide letters of reference and contact information for recent clients. Get in touch with those clients and find out what they liked and what they didn’t. It should be noted that legitimate companies will always welcome a consumer’s questions.
- Inquire if an estate-sale or moving company has a contract. You should never engage an estate-sales representative or moving company without a contract, and you should always receive a copy of the signed document.