Intelligent Senior ManYour elderly clients are ripe for scammers to pick.  How is it that these clients, some very intelligent and accomplished, fall for these obvious ripoffs?

In a typical example the  U.S. Attorney’s office charged six defendants in a fraud scheme targeting the elderly .This time it was a lottery scam involving theft of a total of $400,000 from various victims. .  We see these reports often in the news, to the point that they seem very repetitive. The characters and the amount of money stolen from elders changes but the methods are the same over and over.  Other scams bring in millions from their vulnerable victims. The thieves in this case were caught.  Most are not.

Why do elders fall for these things?  Why don’t they get that the “Nigerian prince” or the “Jamaican Lottery” are clearly bogus and not to be trusted?  Isn’t it obvious?

There are various reasons why elders are such easy prey for these thieves.  One root cause is isolation and loneliness, a fact of life for many seniors who are not closely monitored by loved ones.  A pleasant, slick professional calls on the phone in a friendly and engaging manner and traps the vulnerable elder with kind words, attention and a feeling of connection.  The thieves are trained and smart.  They smell the kill. They know exactly what to say to get the elder to trust them.

Another very important factor is diminished cognition in the elder.The crooks know that if they have a thousand names purchased from magazine subscribers, U.S. lottery or state contests and they know the ages of those on the list, that their chances of finding victims are excellent.  Some of the elderly on the lists will be just impaired enough that they can’t see a scam coming.   At least a third of those aged 85 and above have dementia in some form.  Scammers simply buy the lists and start calling.  And there are no restrictions against selling the names and personal information such as ages, phone numbers, addresses, the highest bidder.  They can acquire the name and age of every subscriber to The Reader’s Digest, for example, providing fertile ground for seeking victims.  Research into the impairments of Alzheimer’s Disease tells us that financial judgment may be the first kind of judgment to erode, and it is not obvious at the beginning stages, though the impairment is significant.

Another reason why seniors fall for these ripoff schemes is that they feel financially insecure.  If there is a downturn in the market or whatever investments an aging client holds, he may feel a need to get easy  money or a high return, and when a con artist offers that, he’s likely to fall for it.  The right combination of loneliness, isolation, early dementia and fear make him an easy target.

Can you do anything about the problem?

I think you can. If you do care about your aging clients and want to remain a trusted advisor, a first protective step is to be aware of the risk of scams targeting the elderly.  At, we recommend developing a policy for all aging clients that includes staying in more frequent contact with them than you are required to do. Here are 3 things that sort of policy might include:

1.  Schedule monitoring of how the elderly client is doing in general on a regular basis, the frequency of which you determine by thoughtful planning.  (Quarterly?  less often?) Check in by phone.  Reassure your client when investment losses happen, and ask how he’s feeling and what he’s doing in his personal life.  This does take time, but it can be very helpful to renew the client’s trust in you and remedy somewhat the feelings of isolation that can accompany aging. 

2.  Pay particular attention to recently widowed aging clients. The aftermath of loss of a spouse can be a dangerous time because of grief.  That makes people vulnerable to begin with and when you add some cognitive impairment to the mix you can see that thieves love the opportunity to cultivate these elders. Consider that deaths are public records and that scammers can easily collect lists of the recently widowed to pursue with their bogus offers.  They may start the conversation by expressing their phony empathy for the person’s loss and work on a relationship after that.

3.  Educate your client. She may have heard of scams and have a vague understanding of how they work,  but not be ready to spot one when the phone rings with any scheme to defraud her.  If you provide a respectful reminder, using a recent story of elder abuse by scammers published in news reports, which you can easily find any time, you just might cause your client to think twice before becoming engaged in conversation with a stranger who seems so nice and friendly. You can do your part to help  your aging clients  to beware of phone calls, contests and unknown people asking for personal information or money.

My mother in law, Alice is still quite sharp at age 91.  Someone tried the “lottery winner” scam with her too. She called the number on the  letter from the “Lottery Authority” and asked how she would know if they were legitimate.  The accented voice on the other end of the call said “well if you think this is fake, you can hang up.” So she did. End of scam.  Not all 91 year olds are so alert.  Given that, the financial advisor may be one of the few trusted people in a position to help them create a line of defense.

Would you  like to develop a policy specifically geared toward keeping your aging clients and keeping them safe from abuse? Get expert help with policy development and implement it with training at

Until next time,

Carolyn Rosenblatt

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