The Scamming of Our Elders

It happens as much through e-mail as it does through postal mail or via telemarketing calls these days. You receive an offer you can’t refuse promising riches or else alleging that you’ve already won. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.

You’re checking your email. A message from someone you don’t know has arrived. They’re begging for your help. The situation might seem contrived or even preposterous, but you are tempted. You can’t help reading it. Your experience in growing up during the Great Depression has instilled a spirit of always wanting to help someone in need, and this message is even better: If you do help this person, providing information about yourself or your finances, sending some money, the writer promises that you will be rewarded many times over. You fall for it. Perhaps you succumb more than once.

Sometimes a postal mail, email, or telemarketing call identifies you as a lottery or contest winner. It doesn’t matter that you never entered; this fact is clouded by the fact you’ve won. Why would someone tell you that you’ve won something when you haven’t?

Because, as is too often the case — you’ve been scammed, that’s why. Less sophisticated online than many younger people, and vulnerable also to cheats in the “snail” mail, American elders are often victimized by fraudulent scam artists eager to separate them from their money. Duped elders have lost assets acquired over a lifetime – sometimes losing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

With the Internet’s global reach, African countries like Nigeria and Sierra Leone have emerged as “scam industry centers.” Elderly victims tend to fit a profile. They often live alone, may have recently lost a loved one, or may be experiencing the early signs of diminished capacity. Besides routine crime prevention steps that can be taken to protect a loved one, an attorney specializing in Elder Law can establish some protection from con artists by building effective language into trusts and estate plans. In extreme situations, a trusted family member can be given power of attorney over bank accounts and financial matters. But being scammed can be painful for young and old alike.

Gene Osofsky is an East Bay elder law attorney in California. Gene Osofsky specializes in Medi-Cal planning, wills, probate, trusts, nursing home issues, special needs planning, and disability planning. To learn more about East Bay elder law lawyers, East Bay elder law attorney, Medi-Cal planning, Medi-Cal planning lawyers and The Law Offices of Osofsky & Osofsky, visit