Mrs. Hendricks lives alone. All of her children live out of state and visit once a year at Christmas. Mrs. Hendricks values her independence but is suffering from mild memory impairment although she denies it. Once while shopping at a local grocery store, Mrs. Hendricks was approached by a well-dressed gentlemen who told her that her car appeared to be overheating. He stated that he would be happy to fix it for her at her residence for a minimal fee. Mrs. Hendricks agreed and the gentleman followed her back to her home. Once she arrived at home the man advised her that it would cost $500 for the repair. He would require a check prior to the completed work to order parts. Believing him, Mrs. Hendricks sat down and wrote the man a check. He left to “retrieve the parts” but never returned to complete the repair. The car by the way, continues to run without a problem.
The story, while fictional, is a common occurrence. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, “People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say ‘no’.” Like the car repair other schemes exist to exploit older adults, such as the telephone call that the individual receives informing them that their loved one has been involved in an accident. Another instance is the handyman who comes to the door stating he noticed a leaky roof while driving by an older adult’s residence. Whatever the incident may be the individual has trusted the source and provided monetary compensation for a service or issue that was not required or did not exist.
So, the question arises. How can an individual protect him or herself?
1) Do not provide your financial or personal information to anyone you do not know.
2) Talk to a trusted sources such as a friend, relative, or attorney prior to agreeing to any service for your house, your car or your property.
3) Do not pay an individual prior to a completed service
4) Always ask for a business card and service agreement from anyone stating a repair is needed.
5) Never send money to an unknown entity.
6) Gather information on the individual such as name, telephone number, address, title, and organization that he or she works for. If he/she is reluctant or unable to provide this information to you, do not hire them for anything.
7) Immediately alert law enforcement regarding the issue that occurred. These scams are considered a criminal offence.
8) Remember to be an informed consumer and “buyer beware.”
As a professional geriatric care manager I have worked with individuals and their families after a scam has occurred. This has allowed proper communication with law enforcement, filing a crime report, investigation by the proper authorities and educational techniques to prevent the issue from re-occurring. It is imperative to remember that these schemes are a crime. Individuals often do not want to report the crime because he or she is embarrassed that it has occurred. (In some cases, they may not understand how they were taken advantage of and someone else hearing of the situation may have to alert authorities.) However, the more law enforcement is aware of the issues the more probability these individuals have for being caught, thus reducing the amount of incidents that occur. Preventing this type of abuse is the first step in allowing a happy and safe community for us all.
Liz Heape-Caldwell, BS is a Geriatric Care Manager with Elder Options, Inc., serving the Sacramento Region since 1988; elderoptionsca.com.