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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Seniors are a prime target for con artists

June 10. 2018 5:47PM

FRAUD AGAINST the elderly continues to be widespread. The basic styles of grift haven’t changed much since then-FBI Financial Crimes Section Chief Dennis M. Lormel testified to the Special Committee on Aging of the U.S. Senate on Sept. 10, 2001.

Here are highlights of his plain-spoken summation of fraud committed against the elderly.

1) The most common causes of fraud play on a victim’s greed, the strong desire to live longer by curing ailments such as cancer, and the fear of some minor legal infraction and a desire to erase it from public records.

2) Fraud artists have many ways to collect personal data and take advantage of the available data on individuals such as divorce, bankruptcy, birth and death of relatives and even classmates.

3) People who were born between 1930 and 1950 have been reared by their parents to be polite, especially with phone callers. They are less likely to hang up even they have suspicions about what the caller is saying.

4) Elders lose the sharpness of memory as they age, and thieves know this well. If someone realizes they have been fleeced by a fraud artist, it might be days after the incident — when memory of the details has faded. Even if the victim reports the incident to police, because they are able to provide only vague information an investigation becomes difficult to conduct even if the police wish to pursue one.

5) Medical fraud is big-time crime. Despite the protection of medical records by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), thieves still manage to gain access to restricted data, such as a list of cancer patients. Then they pose as physicians promising a revolutionary medicine, one that costs $10,000 for a 45-day supply. The victim draws on retirement savings to pay for a bogus cure — probably the nastiest fraud of all that attacks the elderly.

6) Classic Ponzi schemes play on the greed of victims. Con artists promise investors an unrealistic rate of return. Who doesn’t want to double their money in a year? Victims are fooled when the fraud artist produces a dividend check once an initial amount of money is invested, suggesting greater returns ahead. But the new investment is used to pay the promised dividend to the older investors. No money is actually ever invested.

Why such a classic scheme continues to succeed repeatedly is something I don’t understand. “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” is an old and well-established proverb worldwide. People have a remarkable ability to put the proverb aside, convinced their get-rich-quick offer is different. Thus, Ponzi scheme thieves continue to prosper.

In the end, fraud committed against you, the elders, can continue to thrive based on your strong and gullible greed, strong desire to live on despite one’s illness, and one more reason — which I will explain next time.

Shintaro “Sam” Asano of New Castle was named by MIT as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century. Write to him at

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