Services Offer A Means To Foil Widespread 'Elder Fraud' | KUOW News and Information

Services Offer A Means To Foil Widespread 'Elder Fraud'

Dec 22, 2014
Originally published on December 22, 2014 2:50 pm

This is the season for generosity — and for con artists who take advantage of it.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to scams; more than a quarter of the victims of financial fraud are over 60, according to the FTC. But now there are products on the market designed to protect seniors' nest eggs.

Retired school teacher Ruth Heimer could have used some help. She usually donated about $50 a month to her favorite charities. But one day her family noticed that her donations had gone from $50 per month to about $50 a day.

"She just wasn't remembering that she'd donated yesterday," says her grandson, Kai Stinchcombe. She really went for those charity pitches with pictures of children and fonts that looked like handwriting, he says.

"It says, 'Ruth, I'm hungry and I need you to donate 20 cups of rice,' " Stinchcombe says. "You know, she thinks that kid is going to die if she doesn't donate 20 cups of rice."

He figures his grandmother probably gave away tens of thousands of dollars to questionable causes.

So Stinchcombe started a company called True Link. It issues prepaid Visa debit cards to older adults. True Link, working with families, can customize each card to block specific kinds of payments, such as wire transfers or sweepstakes entries or casinos.

"We're able to configure the card in such a way that it will decline payment for the type of transactions that are problematic," Stinchcombe says.

Older people who are victimized once tend to be victimized over and over again, says Doug Shadel, a fraud expert with AARP.

"Once you participate in one of these things, even if you only send in $3, you're really signaling to the con artists that you're someone who participates in this, compared to the majority of people who do not," Shadel says.

But enough people do. A recent study of older adults in Florida and Arizona found that about 60 percent had been targeted by scams, and about a quarter of those targeted had fallen for the pitches.

For Howard Tischler's mother, the problem began when she purchased an auto club policy from a telemarketer that cost $80 a month. Tischler says his mother was legally blind, didn't own a car and didn't have a driver's license.

One useless purchase led to many others and, eventually, to credit card bills of around $20,000.

Tischler, a software developer, thought it would be great if families could be tipped off to these problem purchases immediately, before the bills get out of hand.

So he founded Eversafe. The company scans all of the bank accounts, credit cards and investments of an older adult on a daily basis. If something looks fishy, the older adult — and his or her designated family members — are notified.

Tischler says this enables older adults to continue to live independently, but to have "an extra set of eyes."

The AARP has a Fraud Watch Network where hundreds of thousands of members report new scams when they see them. Shadel says the AARP also has call centers, where volunteers phone older people who are at high risk for being targeted by scam artists.

"We try and describe very specifically how the scams work, so that you can say, 'Ah, I've seen that before and I'm not going to go for it,' " Shadel says.

Research shows that counseling from someone their own age actually helps older adults resist scams. It can also provide an alternative for those who prefer talking over technology.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

'Tis the season for charitable giving. Alas, it's also a prime season for con artists. Older adults are especially vulnerable to scammers posing as charities. More than a quarter of the victims of financial fraud are over 60. But now there are products on the market designed to protect seniors from fraudulent charities. NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging and filed this report.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Ruth Heimer usually donated about $50 a month to her favorite charities. But one day her family notice that her donations had gone from $50 a month to about $50 a day.

KAI STINCHCOMBE: Because she just wasn't remembering that she donated yesterday...

JAFFE: ...Says her grandson, Kai Stinchcombe. She really went for those charity pitches with pictures of children and fonts that look like handwriting.

STINCHCOMBE: And it says, Ruth, I'm hungry, and I need you to donate 20 cups of rice. You know, she thinks that kid is going to die if she doesn't donate 20 cups of rice.

JAFFE: Stinchcombe figures his grandmother probably gave away tens of thousands of dollars to questionable causes. This was the reason he started a company called True Link. It issues prepaid Visa debit cards to older adults. Working with their families, they can customize each card to block specific kinds of payments.

STINCHCOMBE: Wire transfers or sweepstakes entries or casinos - we're able to configure the card in such a way that it will decline payment for the type of transactions that are problematic.

JAFFE: Older people who are victimized once tend to be victimized over and over again, says Doug Shadel, the fraud expert for the AARP.

DOUG SHADEL: Because once you participate in one of these things, even if you only send in $3, you're really signaling to the con artist that you're someone who participates in this, compared to the majority of people who do not.

JAFFE: But enough do. A recent study of older adults in Florida and Arizona found that about 60 percent of them had been targeted by scams, and about a quarter of those targeted had fallen for the pitches.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CONVERSATION)

NICOLE: It's Nicole from Colonial. How are you?

JAFFE: Nicole, selling gold coins at highly inflated prices...

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CONVERSATION)

NICOLE: I just wanted to know what card did you want to put this on?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don't recall placing this order. When did I place this order?

NICOLE: It was about five weeks ago.

JAFFE: This tape is from a law enforcement sting. Nicole is real. The victim is a plant. The audio was provided by the AARP. For Howard Tischler's mother, the problem wasn't gold coins. It started with an auto club policy for $80 a month.

HOWARD TISCHLER: Despite the fact that she was legally blind, didn't own a car and didn't have a driver's license.

JAFFE: One useless purchase led to many others and credit card bills of around $20,000. So Tischler founded Eversafe. The company scans all of the bank accounts, credit cards and investments of an older adult on a daily basis. If something looks fishy, the older adult and his or her designated family members are notified.

TISCHLER: It enables them to continue to live independently, but to have an extra set of eyes.

JAFFE: The AARP's come up with its own approach. They have a fraud watch network where hundreds of thousands of their members report new scams when they see them. Doug Shadel says they also have call centers where volunteers phone older people who are at high risk for being targeted by scam artists.

SHADEL: We try and describe very specifically how the scans work, so you can say, ah, that - I've seen that before, and I'm not going to go for it.

JAFFE: Research shows that counseling from someone their own age actually helps older adults resist scams and provides an alternative for those who prefer talking over technology. Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.