This article was spurred by this article in the Wall Street Journal: Financial Scammers Increasingly Target Elderly Americans. The elderly are indeed a target because of three reasons:
- The poor elderly need to make money, and they become prone to scams that offer easy earnings, while milking them for “startup costs” and things like that.
- The middle class elderly need to stretch the meager incomes that they have amid low interest rates (courtesy of the Fed), and are tempted by those offering plans where they can earn more on their assets.
- The rich elderly have money — they are prime targets even if they are smart.
Seniors are targets, and not just by those who are regarded as fraudsters. I had an older friend who was approached by the sales professionals of a major bank to manage her $3 million portfolio, which was already well-managed. They made all manner of promises of what they would do for her, in exchange for a fee on assets — 3%/year.
At that level of expense, there are a lot of things that could benefit the Senior in question, but the nice-looking, unctuous people from the bank sell an expensive mirage. I’ve never seen a bank that was genuinely good at asset management, and certainly not to the degree of charging a 3% fee.
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Every elderly person needs a younger skeptical friend who is sharp enough to be able sense when a deal is sketchy, and the elderly person needs to have the discipline to run things by their younger friend.
As I so often say, “Don’t buy what someone wants to sell you. Buy what you have researched for yourself.” The elderly should develop a hatred of marketers. Hang up on anyone who is offering something that is “too good to be true” because it almost always is too good to be true.
To those who Lead Churches
I am an elder in my Reformed Presbyterian congregation. I have served my denomination on the boards of its college, denominational trustees, finance committee, and pension board. In my congregation, we watch out for our elderly members. We make their requests a priority. If they need financial advice, I give it to them for free. God rewards those who aid widows.
I encourage Church leaders who have enough financial sense to be able to know when something financial “feels funny” to gather their elderly congregants, and tell them to call you if they are tempted by slick-talking salesmen to make them part with money.
To those who Love Elderly Family or Friends
Take the time to tell them to be careful, and that you are available to help them whenever someone calls them out of the blue, where that party will benefit from money from the senior, no matter what it is. This isn’t as tough as telling them to give up the car keys (been through that once). But they do need to be sensitized to two things:
- There are people out there who want to cheat them, and
- You love them, and will help them in any situation like that.
We’re supposed to take care of and honor elderly people anyway. Societies that don’t do that tend to fail. So look out for your elderly friends to the degree consonant with your relationship to them.
By David Merkel, CFA of alephblog