Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ripping Off Seniors


My ninety year old mother-in-law lives with us.  She is generally in good health, and her memory and mind are good.  However, the scam mails showing up in our mailbox are increasingly sophisticated, and she frequently falls for them.
Almost every day we receive one or more letters –in impressively designed envelopes-touting the imminent reduction in Medicare benefits, or Social Security benefits, or both, and the necessity of sending a contribution to some appropriately named organization such as the Center for Saving Medicare.  The letters are worded to convince the reader that Congress is on the verge of gutting (Medicare; Social Security; or some other program).  And that the reader must send money immediately, immediately- or their benefits will be stripped.

The various subscription services have polished their direct mail messages to a fine gloss.  She falls for these scams frequently.  With the Baby Boom swing into older ages fully underway, I’m sure these organizations are only going to get stronger and smarter.  Which means both those of us who are sixty or better, or those who help their parents, grandparents and so on, must be vigilant and prevent granddad from getting milked.

I’m sure my mother-in-law spends $3 or $4 per week on postage, as she’s become engaged in the publishers’ “sweepstakes”.  Just about every day she receives an envelope with quite amazing graphics and messaging, announcing that a winner has been certified, or there are now guaranteed winners, etc. and she dutifully fills out something and returns some direct response piece.  Fortunately she generally doesn’t buy or subscribe to whatever they are hawking. Occasionally, she receives a large package with bold print announcing that she’s a winner!  Cleverly done too: ELLEN: YOU ARE A WINNER!  OPEN IMMEDIATELY!  TIME SENSITIVE! And so on.  Inside are coupons entitling her to amazing discounts – e.g. buy a computer for only $400.  Examine the fine print, and with even a little knowledge, you’ll know that model is at least two years old.

Here’s the point: if you are helping out some older adults, you may have to become their advisor to prevent them from being ripped off.  Ellen isn’t being scammed out of thousands, but grifted out of $30 or $40 per month she could put to far better use.  I would say shame to these direct mailers, but they obviously don’t have a sense of shame.