How To Protect Susceptible Relatives From Scams

The Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday about how to identify and protect loved ones from con artists. One of the problems with being an easy mark—say, because of reduced mental capacity or increasing isolation—is that you get put on a list and passed around to other scammers, says Karen Blumenthal, the author of the piece and a relative of one of these perpetually easy marks.

Her relative, a recent widower, started off by sending checks for $30 or less for fake lotteries and sweepstakes. Eventually he fell for a $4k check fraud scam, and then later sold his car and wired that money to another scammer.

For months, family members wrestled with what to do. When confronted, our relative would acknowledge he had been ripped off and promise it would end — but then he would succumb again, a pattern experts say is common.

The debate ended this spring when our relative, unable to cash out his life-insurance policy, was conned into selling his car and wiring $4,000 to Costa Rica. In May, with his three children and a stepson present, he acknowledged to a judge that he had been financially scammed. The judge granted guardianship to two of his children, taking away his right to manage his own affairs.

The family went to lunch with him, then dismantled his cellphone and redirected his mail to another state. A few hours later, he demanded his phone back. He wanted to call some “friends” who had some money waiting for him.

One thing that becomes clear from her relative’s behavior, as well as from this New Yorker profile on a psychotherapist who fell for scams repeatedly, is that regardless of mental capacity, some people seem far more likely to fall for the same cons over and over no matter how rationally you explain the techniques to them. The WSJ has a sidebar that provides some tips on how to help protect these high-risk people, including:

  • Provide a printed script to use with telemarketers and leave it by the phone;
  • re-route all mail to a post office box and go through it with the recipient;
  • change the victim’s phone number;
  • find other activities to fill up the victim’s time so s/he doesn’t feel as compelled to engage with friendly scammers (they’ll spend countless hours grooming the mark to think of them as friends).

They also point out that AARP has a toll-free number you can call— 1-800-646-2283 —to report fraudulent activity, as well as a special website called AARP Fraudfighters.

“A Family’s Fight to Save an Elder From Scammers” [WSJ] (Thanks to Joanne!)
(Photo: m4rpk)