These days, more and more Americans are retiring in debt. A recent AARP survey found nearly 15% of retirees have difficult paying their bills. Many seniors rely on assets they’ve already accrued, so scrambling for extra cash makes them easy targets for fraud.
With a quarter of the population heading into retirement, senior scams present a problem that isn’t getting better with age.
“You have a society of people who grew up during the Depression, post-World War II. Very independent, very, very proud people who worked hard, saved their money, provided for their families, now they’re into what is called the Golden Years,” said Jerry Irby, a member of Senior Services and the Commission on Aging for the past 17 years.
Years when they no longer have a steady income. Most rely on Social Security, which nets them an average of only $1,200 a month, for everything.
“That’s all they have. That has to pay rent and/or mortgage, heat, electric. They can get in situations where it’s a ‘heat or eat.’ ‘Do I pay for heat so I don’t freeze, or I buy food?'” remarked David Elmblad, Baraga/Houghton/Keweenaw County Adult Services Program Manager.
In turn, when seniors feel they need money quickly, they become an easy target.
“Seniors are lonely. They’re the biggest victims of financial fraud because they will trust whomever comes to them with a pitch. It’s somebody to talk to. Somebody’s on the other end, they want to talk. Before you know it, they’re talked out of their income,” said Oedith Harris, Baraga County TRIAD Chairperson.
And once they’ve fallen prey, they don’t want their friends or relatives to know they’ve been scammed.
“They don’t tell anybody. They just go ahead and give $900 or $1,000 and think well ‘That’s no big amount out of my savings.’ But you keep adding these up…” continued Irby.
And you find a total of $2.9 billion in fraud with more than 7.5 million senior victims. That’s one in every five Americans over the age of 65. Again, those are only the cases that get reported.
“It’s very important to come forward so that we can catch them. Sheriff Teddy will get on the case. But they won’t if they’re embarassed. They won’t if their family’s going to be upset with them,” Harris noted.
But legal ramifications as you’ll see in part two of our series, legal ramifications are hard to come by.