During my time as a Financial Counselor at Ontrack Financial Education and Counseling, I worked with a very kind and intelligent older woman. I still think of her often. She was distraught and trying to piece her life back together when she came to see me. Several months before she had unwittingly fallen victim to a “Sweetheart Scam” and realized a little too late what had happened.
Her story was particularly touching because it’s easy to put yourself in her shoes. She truly believed she had met a wonderful man online who she would marry. The only thing she believed standing in the way of their happiness was her new beau was living overseas. She explained to me, in between tears, how they had planned for him to travel to the United States so they could start their lives together. You can probably guess what happened next. Her beau suffered a series of crises on his way to the United States that required emergency wires from her bank account to his overseas account. She lost everything. He, of course, never materialized. Unfortunately, this is not the only first-hand account of senior financial fraud I encountered while counseling at Ontrack. It was a fairly frequent occurrence.
Recently, I attended an Elder Fraud Summit here in Buncombe County. Elaine Marshall, NC Secretary of State, and David Kirkland, Special Deputy NC Attorney General, were the main speakers. It was held by the speakers that one in four of us will be in the prediagnostic stages of dementia by age 78. Scammers target new potential victims by exploiting this mild cognitive impairment. If you have already passed this milestone, you may have noticed that right around your 78th birthday there was a significant increase in mailings and telephone calls with messages that seemed too good to be true.
Activity of this sort is the bread and butter of a billion-dollar business called the Elder Fraud Industry. Between 2009 and 2015 losses of $46.6 million were reported to the NC Attorney General’s elder fraud unit. In fact, the worst known victimization in NC happened right here in Asheville to the tune of $800,000. So how do we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? The first step is to check with your banking institution to see what specific fraud prevention measures it has in place to deal with red flags. The second step is to talk to your financial planner or advisor to similarly see what specific measures are in place. For example, here at Starks Financial Group, we always make sure to have an updated emergency contact on file so that we can reach out to someone who knows our client well if we have concerns. Lastly, there are a number of wonderful resources for preventing or addressing elder financial fraud. Locally, the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services (828/250-5800) will investigate allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation of functionally disabled persons. The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office (828/250-6670) is another resource if you believe you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud. On a statewide scale, the Attorney General (800/5-NO-SCAM) has the power to interdict all MoneyGram and Western Union wires, but you have to report the suspected fraud for them to be able to do take any steps. Nationally, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov) has a wide breadth of educational resources and consumer tools as well.
Elder Fraud is a very serious and wide-reaching crime that touches all of us, regardless of age. That’s why the Savvy Women of Starks Financial Group are hosting a workshop on Elder Financial Abuse workshop on October 27th, 2016 right here in Asheville. The workshop is free and open to the public. Caroline Farmer, Deputy Director of the Victims and Citizens Section, North Carolina Department of Justice, will be joining us to discuss the ins and outs of elder financial fraud and what we can do about it. This is a must-see presentation, and we hope you will join us! To let us know you’re coming and for more details, please visit the Savvy Women tab at www.starksfinancial.com or give us a call at 828/285-8777.