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Frauds target elderly, experts warn

Thu., June 4, 2009

AARP seminar addresses money-taking schemes

Con artists are preying on recession-hit older Americans with new scams including bogus job offers and equity skimming deals.

Sometimes it’s even worse.

At an AARP fraud seminar Wednesday in Spokane, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna recounted the story of a 78-year-old man with dementia who was duped into marriage by his masseuse. When the man’s new wife took him to his Issaquah bank to drain his accounts, alert employees disrupted the plan.

The massage therapist was arrested and charged with three felonies, including kidnapping, attempted theft, and obtaining a signature by deception, according to Associated Press reports.

Older Americans are prime targets for scammers, Lori Schock, associate director of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s investor education foundation, said during the seminar, attended by about 300 people.

She said older people are often more trusting than younger people, and, more importantly, often have many assets that can be turned quickly into cash.

Some new scams are simply twists on old ploys, such as work-at-home schemes.

Chuck Harwood, regional director of the Federal Trade Commission, said offers to pay people $900 a day to watch television have been and continue to be fraud designed to take victims’ money.

The same goes for companies offering to pay handsome amounts to envelope stuffers.

Jack Zurlini, an assistant attorney general based in Spokane, warned of foreclosure rescue offers that often end with the “rescuer” owning the home or walking away with any equity and leaving the homeowner underwater. He also noted the multiple bogus offers of “credit repair” and “debt relief” that are prevalent in radio spots, cable-television advertising and print ads.

“They can’t do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself,” Zurlini said. “They’re nothing but trouble for people.”

McKenna said that although some scammers are getting caught, deterrence is lacking because prison sentences run light. He is keen on getting new laws passed to toughen fraud penalties.

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