NEW YORK (AP) — Boomers beware: Scams, frauds and other financial exploitation schemes targeting older Americans are a growing multibillion-dollar industry enriching the schemers, anguishing the victims and vexing law enforcement officials who find these crimes among the hardest to investigate and prosecute.
"The true con artists, who are in the business of making money off older folks through devious means, are very good at what they do," said Sally Hurme, a consumer fraud specialist with AARP. "They cover their tracks, they use persuasive psychological means to spin their tales."
"Elder financial abuse is an intolerable crime resulting in losses of human rights and dignity," MetLife said. "Yet it remains underreported, underrecognized and underprosecuted."
Older Americans are by no means the only target of schemers and scammers, but experts say they have distinctive characteristics that often make them a tempting prey.
Among the current variations:
—The Grandparent Scam: Impostors, often calling from abroad, pose as a grandchild in need of cash to cope with some sort of emergency, perhaps an arrest or an accident. The grandparent is asked to send money and urged not to tell anyone else about the transfer.
Paul Greenwood, a deputy district attorney in San Diego who runs an elder abuse prosecution unit, says he's been trying cajole local banks and credit unions to be more aggressive in protecting their elderly customers. One way is for those institutions to contact authorities if they detect suspicious withdrawal patterns.
Greenwood says he's often spoken by phone with overseas scammers, initially pretending to be a potential victim, then revealing who he is.
For elderly scam victims of modest means, the results can be catastrophic.
"The abuse can leave a person devastated," Turner said. "They're not young to enough to grow a nest egg again — the nest egg is gone."
She says this type of financial exploitation is often accompanied by physical abuse, and yet many elderly victims balk at reporting it.
"There's the embarrassment factor — no one wants to see relatives prosecuted," Markarian said. "And there's fear of losing your independence — being put in a nursing home. A lot of the times, it's the offender making that threat."
She said most states have developed appropriate laws for dealing with elder abuse, and the key question is whether there are enough investigators and other resources to carry them out effectively.
She likened the challenge to a whack-a-mole game.
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