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By Andi Bourne

Seniors Targeted in Exploitation Scams and Schemes


November 30, 2017

Scams are big business across the nation and all too often hit home in the small communities of Montana. Seniors, age 60 and older, are frequently the target. Many seniors have lost their life savings to strangers, caregivers or family.

Project Coordinator Richard Heitstuman with Montana Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) Legal Services of Helena shared information about some of the common scams, ways to avoid them and services available at little or no cost to seniors to help if they have fallen victim to a scammer.

Montana AAA Legal Services is a senior advocacy group that handles the legal needs for low-income seniors. Seniors that meet the 250 percent of the poverty level are served for free. Others will be asked to pay based on income. Heitstuman estimated 90 percent of seniors meet that cutoff.

Heitstuman defined scams as any illegal means of getting a person’s finances. He defined schemes as unethical and predatory business practices.

According to True Link’s 2015 report on Elder Financial Abuse, only one in 44 exploitation cases are reported each year nationwide. It is estimated that $36.8 billion per year is lost to exploitation of seniors and $7 billion of it is lost to relatives and caregivers.

“It is not a sign of intelligence if you fall for these scams because they target the higher educated,” said Heitstuman. “The number one target for financial fraud is a male in his late 60s with a college education. They have more financial confidence; they make those decisions more readily on their own and don’t feel like they need to talk to others about it.”

Seniors are targeted because: they typically have a savings account; often engage in online or phone shopping where sales are less regulated and payment methods are less secure; are more isolated; are more likely to talk to strangers on the phone and invite them into their home; they are less likely to talk about financial decisions with their family; they may have diminished mental capacity and/or memory loss; and may be required to relinquish financial control setting them up for abuse by a person that is supposed to take care of them.

“The senior generation is a lot nicer than [the younger generation],” said Heitstuman. “They have a hard time hanging up on people and have a hard time shutting the door on a door-to-door salesman. They are just a lot more gracious and sometimes that can be a bad thing.”

Scammers want to establish credibility. They are well-dressed, well-spoken and have back stories to make their organizations seem more legitimate. They also will impersonate well-known companies or government agencies to establish credibility. They use high-pressure tactics to make someone mad, sympathetic or pressure someone into making a poor decision.

Exploitation can also hit closer to home when the exploiters are caregivers or loved ones.

“Usually the potential abuser is a son or daughter, age 35-40 and they have a substance abuse or addiction problem,” said Heitstuman. “Another generic sign is they rely on the senior for housing or food. Also {another sign is] if they are estranged from the rest of the family.”

Other signs of exploitation are if a senior is living below their means and skipping meals. Heitstuman said it is estimated that 1.2 million seniors are currently skipping meals due to exploitation because their funds are being drained.

A red flag for financial abuse is if bills or payments are no longer received.

“If a relative is stealing your money and they don’t want you to know that you are going delinquent on payments, they will change your mailing address to their address and you will never get those late notices until it is way too late,” said Heitstuman.

Heitstuman continued, “Scammers put so much effort into these scams. If they put that much effort into doing good they would be rich anyway.”

Most Popular Scams in Montana:

Medicare Scam: Someone calls, or sends a letter or email claiming to be from Medicare or an insurance company. They need a Medicare or insurance card in order to issue a new one. Heitstuman said while new Medicare cards are being issued in 2018-2019, Medicare will never call you and they will never ask for your number. They do everything through the mail and the cards are being sent out automatically.”

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams: Someone calls and tells the person they have won a prize and they just need to pay the shipping and handling, taxes or delivery fee. Sometimes they even send a check for $1,000 and the person is told to use it to pay the fee. Then the check bounces. Tips to avoid: If someone doesn’t enter a sweepstakes or buy a lottery ticket, they can’t win the grand prize. If someone does enter, record when/where/what/how they entered. Never pay fees for a prize. Remember foreign lotteries are illegal in the United States and cannot be won.

Grandparent Scam: A senior receives a phone call, usually late at night, claiming to be a loved one or relative. They claim that they are in jail and need money or that they have been in an accident and need funds for medical bills or treatment. Tips to avoid: If it is really a relative, they will tell you who they are, don’t offer a guess. Scammers use social media sites to research relatives and will know details of their life. If trying to figure out who the caller is, ask them personal questions only the relative would know, like what they got for their birthday or what elementary school they went to.

Helpful Nephew Scam: A relative comes over to the senior’s house and helps out with chores. The senior gives them money in appreciation but it turns into exploitation when the payment is expected or an obligation. It turns into exploitation when the senior gives out more money than they can afford. Tips to avoid: Be wary of those who are overly helpful, ask for money or need help paying bills. Be selective about who is allowed in the house, even if they are related.

The Driveway Scam: Traveling scammers offer to repave a driveway for a really low cost and either don’t do the work or don’t do it well. Tips to avoid: Don’t fall for high-pressure tactics or a good deal that can’t be passed up. Research the company.

The IRS Scam: An IRS impersonator calls and says the person owes back taxes, threatens to take them to court or they have a tax refund. They collect information on the individual. Tips to avoid: All debts owed to the IRS can be disputed so they will never threaten arrest. Also, the IRS does not need someone’s personal information. They already have it. They will never call requesting this type of info and they will not charge for the delivery of a refund. If back taxes are owed, the person will be notified through the mail.

Western Union Refund Scam: In January 2017, the Western Union Company entered an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the US Department of Justice, admitting to criminal violations, including willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud. As part of the settlement, Western Union will pay $586 million to redress victims. Victims who lost money to scammers who told them to pay via Western Union’s money transfer system between Jan. 1, 2004 and Jan. 19, 2017 are eligible to file a claim to get their money back. Customers may file a claim by Feb. 12, 2018 to retrieve money lost to scammers who used Western Union. Affected consumers should visit for more information. Scammers are calling and offering to help people fill out the forms and collecting personal information. Tips to avoid: No one associated with the claims process will call to ask for consumers’ bank account or credit card number.

Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Schemes: An offer is available, someone calls offering foreclosure or refinancing assistance or wants to sell a very cheap home or give one away for free. The intent is to steal someone’s equity or use them as a pawn in a house-flipping scam.Tips to avoid: Always check with the Federal Housing Authority before making any decisions. A legitimate HECM loan product will be insured by the FHA, and they will have knowledge of the product of service. Never respond to unsolicited offers and don’t sign anything unless it is understood. If considering it, seek out assistance from a reverse mortgage counselor.

Telemarketing scams and schemes: Someone calls or stops by and is selling an exciting new product, a magazine subscription or they request some personal information. Tips to avoid: If an offer sounds good, ask for it in writing and talk to friends and family about it. Never give out personal information over the phone to an unknown caller. Finally, don’t trust caller I.D., as scammers can use “spoofing” technology to make the call come from a local number.

Internet Scams: A screen pops up warning someone using a computer that they have a computer virus and user must act quickly before the computer is irreparably damaged. The ad gives you a number to call and when you do, the company promises to fix your computer for a fee. They request permission to remotely access the computer, and once given, they “fix” the problem when in fact they often install a virus or malware that steals personal information that can be used later or sold on the dark web. Tips to avoid: Don’t trust computer pop-ups. Close the window, close the web browser or restart the computer. Use a reputable, subscription-based anti-virus service if concerned.

Investment Schemes: There is an ad or someone receives a call/letter/email about a new investment opportunity. The scammers require money to be spent to make money. Tips to avoid: For an investment strategy to be effective it would not be shared with thousands of people. Consult with family and friends and/or with an investment broker.

General Suggestions to Avoid Financial Exploitation:

• Be careful when designating a Power of Attorney.

• Be sure to specify under what conditions the Power of Attorney can be enacted.

• Check statements and account balances.

• Request free yearly credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

• Stay involved with family. Inform them who is making financial decisions.

• Be wary of relatives with addiction problems or who are financially dependent.

• Scrutinize bills for additional fees or unrecognizable charges

• Keep a record of all purchases and contest entries, the day it was ordered, whether it was paid for and the organization purchased from.

• Document all phone conversations and in-person encounters.

• Keep doors and windows locked even if they are home. Door-to-door salesmen can ask for a glass or water or to use the restroom and steal while their partner keeps the senior engaged at the door. Also if someone is hard of hearing someone can sneak in and the senior would never know.

• If you get a phone call from a government organization or any organization that is questionable, hang up and call them back. They can help if the call was legitimate.

• When approached to support a charity, visit Charity Watch at or Charity Navigator at to research the charity.

• If hiring contractors, check them out with the state to ensure they are a registered contractor, look them up on Angie’s List at and/or Home Advisor,

If a victim of fraud:

• Report it as soon as possible. Even if the report is anonymous, it helps build trends, helps AAA Legal Services recognize where these things are taking place and how seniors are being targeted.

• To report exploitation by a caregiver or loved one: call Adult Protective Services at 406-329-1309, Senior Long Term Care Division at 406-444-7787, and MT AAA Legal Services at 406-204-3415.

• To report unethical business, call the Better Business Bureau at 1-703-276-0100 and the Office of Consumer Protection at 406-444-4500.

• To report Medicare fraud to 1-800-MEDICARE

• To find out where to report other types of exploitation, or to report anonymously, for general information on financial exploitation, call Heitstuman at 406-204-3415 or email

• File a police report and ask for a copy. It adds validation to the story.

• Put a freeze on all accounts and freeze credit cards by calling Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

• Put a fraud alert on credit accounts so if any new lines of credit are opened the owner would be notified.

Services Provided by Montana AAA Legal Services (

Legal Document Clinics: Coordinated with the Legal Services Developer Program, seniors can draft Wills, Indian Wills, Beneficiary Deeds, Durable Powers of Attorney (medical and financial), Declaration of Living Wills, and Declaration of Homesteads. To attend a Document Clinic or set up an appointment for a phone clinic, call 406-444-7783.

Financial Exploitation Program/Hotline: Seniors can get information about exploitation and report abuses. Call Heitstuman at 406-204-3415.

Legal Advice Hotline: The Department of Public Health and Human Services Senior and Long Term Care Division operates this hotline where seniors can ask legal questions and get advice about possible exploitation or abuse. Call 406-444-7787.

Justice Served Program: A law firm that represents victims of financial exploitation for a greatly reduced price (may be free in some instances). Call 1-855-449-2125.


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