Senior Scam

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MEXICO - Deborah Lucia is no stranger to scams.  She saw many people come in with fake prize checks when she worked at Quick Cash.  Many of those she tried to help were senior citizens.

"They would believe they really were going to get a lot of money out of these thing," Lucia said.  "These people of course send their own money out there, and before you know it their whole savings is gone."

But when a scammer targeted her elderly mother, Lucia still felt unprepared.  Her mother's neighbor befriended her and then used access to the house to steal a purse and pose as Lucia's mother's grandaughter. 

"Within a matter of hours she already had somebody in place to pretend to be my mother," Lucia said.  "They called to verify, they already had a cell number, they already had her social security number...all the information they needed to verify."

Lucia went after the scammer, but she's more frustrated by why the scammer went after her mother.  

"You never know, you never know how crazy these people are or how desparate they are to get whatever they're after," Lucia said. "This is a safety issue.  What are they going to do?"

Like many of the 7.3 million American seniors that are scam victims each year, her mother lived alone, stayed home and her dementia caused her to forget simple security steps like locking her doors.  

The Better Business Bureau also says that seniors make profitable targets because they tend to have a more naturally trusting nature. 

"The con that is going on sounds real enough that someone who is a little bit older, is a little bit more trusting, a bit more emotional and caring and giving," Mike Odneal, manager of the Mid-Missouri branch of the Better Business Bureau, said.  

According to a 2006 report by Consumer Action although senior citizens only make up 15 percent of the population, they make up 30 percent of scam victims. And that's not counting those that are targeted but don't take the bait.

Common scams that target the elderly are Medicare scams, where scammers claim to assist the victim through the confusing Medicare process to gain personal information, bereavement scams, where lost loved ones supposedly owe money on an unpaid debt, and grandparent scams, similar to the one Lucia experienced.  Lottery scams and fake charity scams are also common.

But not every senior is easy to fool.  Many say that asking the right questions can scare away a scammer.  Sue Bader avoided a hail damage repair scam by trying to confirm the scammer was with the condo company.  The line then went dead.

The BBB has some simple tips to combat scammers.  It says to check out businesses and charities with it if you are suspicious, ask the caller for specific information about the people or program in question or simply just hang up the phone if a call seems suspicious. 

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services launched MOSAFE, a program that helps combat financial exploitation of elders. It provides free educational materials for consumers and financial businesses on the common dangers and signs to look out for.