How to Avoid Being Swindled By Elder Fraud

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This past year, one of our clients called us with a request for a large withdrawal. While we aid our clients with large withdrawals all the time, this time our client was both upset and being cagey about the purpose of the withdrawal.

There were enough red flags that I was worried there may be something deeper going on. We were on the phone for a while, and I tried to unearth what was going on. Ultimately, I had to start making guesses before the client was willing to confide in me.

Our client was called by someone claiming to be both an attorney and the father of her grandchild’s friend. The story she was told was that a grandchild was in trouble as a result of a car accident. The grandchild was being held by the court. The “attorney” claimed that there was a court gag order such that our client should not tell anyone about the situation.

The “attorney” said the grandchild needed a large sum of money to post bail, and our client would get everything back when the grandchild appeared in court. The “attorney” claimed that only if the bail was posted immediately would the charges be reduced from a felony.

Our client loves her grandchild. She did not want to jeopardize their precarious legal situation. She mentioned that she had even spoken to to her grandchild briefly during the phone call, although he had a cold and sounded funny.

It took a fair amount of time to unearth the scam, to be certain that it was a scam, and to convince the client that it was a scam.

After several hours of work on our part, the client was willing to believe that there was a good possibility that the call was a hoax. The biggest red flags? The lawyer’s name was not listed with the state bar association. The grandchild’s voice did not sound right. The client was not allowed to talk with their grandchild long enough to ask them any questions.

Once we were in agreement that it was probably a scam, we called the grandchild’s parents together just to verify. We got to hear about how her grandchild was healthy, happy, and loving his time at college.

After wishing the client a better rest of the day, we took the time to call the Bureau of Consumer Protection to give them the phone number of the scammers while it was still a live number to the real people. Maddeningly, they said they don’t even bother to pursue these cases but filed a complaint all the same.

It is easy when you are reading an article to believe that you would not be scammed by something like this. But when it happens to you and you hear that someone you love might be in trouble, your emotions can take over.

Scammers often pose as relatives or friends urging you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency — like getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill, or needing to leave a foreign country. Their goal is to trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam.

If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money, listen to this advice:

  • Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
  • Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine.
  • Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Don’t wire money — or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.

Scammers can convincingly impersonate your loved ones. They will play on your emotions. They insist that you wire money right away. They will swear you to secrecy.

It pays to be skeptical. As jaded as I am, I am still surprised.

Elder fraud is one thing that can jeopardize your retirement. Seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion annually from financial exploitation. Here are the top 10 most-reported scams:

  1. IRS Impersonation Scams
  2. Robocalls / Unsolicited phone calls
  3. Sweepstakes Scam / Jamaican Lottery Scam
  4. Computer Tech Support Scams
  5. Elder Financial Abuse
  6. Grandparent Scams
  7. Romance Scams
  8. Social Security Impersonation Scams
  9. Impending Lawsuit Scams
  10. Identity Theft

At a minimum, be completely honest with us at Marotta as your trusted financial advisor regarding exactly what requests for money are for. Even under “real” circumstances, you won’t get in trouble for confiding in your financial advisor while acquiring the funds.

Over the years, we have heard and learned to evaluate many different appeals for money both from illegal scam artists, legal financial sales pitches, and real financial predicaments. Even if the financial need is legitimately from a family member, we can still help try to ensure that family financial transactions are structured in a way to protect future family relationships.

As fiduciaries, we are on your side to ensure that your goals are met. Protecting you from elder fraud is just one of the many services we can offer as a part of comprehensive financial planning.

Photo by Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash

Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.