Protecting the vulnerable from scamsters

The list of scams seems endless. Pump-and-dump swindles. Deceptive charities. Ponzi schemes. Foreign lotteries. Foreclosure scams. Telemarketing snake oil. Credit repair crooks.

Fleecing people is a growth industry with about a third of all victims of fraud schemes seniors, even though they make up only 15% of the population.

By the half-century mark the number of people 65 years old and older will have doubled and the population of 85 and older will have nearly quadrupled.

Another factor behind the rise in scams targeted at the elderly is that until recently law enforcement seemed to issue more press releases condemning these crimes than actually devoting resources toward capturing and punishing the crooks. That is changing, although I'm concerned that the effort will falter with state and local government cutbacks.

Kim Lankford:at Kiplinger's suggests a number of steps adult children can take to protect their parents from fraud. Sad to say, she has first-hand experience:

For example, my mom -- who has Alzheimer's disease -- almost became the victim of a con artist who wanted her to wire him money to claim a "prize" she allegedly won (see Scams, Scams Everywhere). After my mom almost was scammed, I got her a phone with caller ID and told her to let calls from numbers she didn't recognize go to voicemail. So far, this has helped my mom avoid telephone pitches from scammers.

After reading her article you'll realize that are no easy answers, but these steps are necessary.

It isn't just the elderly that get scammed. We're all vulnerable. That's why the basic message remain time-tested and worth repeating for the rest of us.

If the money promise is too good to me true, it is too good to be true. If you don't understand a product, don't buy it. If a broker or advisor is pressuring you to do a deal quickly, don't. Never give out your financial information over the phone or the Internet unless you are absolutely sure about the company. Never send money to unfamiliar companies or strangers. Keep your money and investments well-diversified. Talk to family, friends, your lawyer and financial advisor (if you work with professional advisors) before you make a financial move. Slam the phone down on telemarketers.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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