scam alert

Elders and disabled persons, beware! There are evil people in the world who are out to steal your money and your identity. They really couldn’t care less that you are elderly and/or disabled and very vulnerable. In fact, that is the reason they have targeted you.

They realize that because of your age, physical condition and station in life, you have few resources to defend yourself physically, legally and socially. They have often researched your background and think because you had a successful career you have plenty of money for them to take.

And the chances of them getting caught are slim at best; there are usually no witnesses, many victims are ashamed to report the crime and many times it boils down to your word against the perpetrator and their word against yours.

Often reporting these things to the police result in little of consequence, and state and government law enforcement usually don’t have the resources to spend the time, money or manpower to deal with these crimes.

Before I move to discuss some of the strategies that may be helpful to you in dealing with scammers, I would like to share the vast variety of techniques that scammers use to dupe you into thinking that their requests are legitimate and manipulate you into falling prey to their schemes. All of these are anecdotal stories that I have personally experienced in dealing with scammers.

I have had numerous young women approach me with “gloom-and-doom” narratives asking me to pay their college tuition; refresh their wardrobe; pay for a trip from Cairo, Egypt, to Harrisburg for the purpose of proving to me that she was “for real”; pay for her to fly from Bangkok, Thailand, to San Francisco so she could spend time with her soldier boyfriend before he was to go overseas.

My eldest son reported that someone on Facebook had taken my picture and profile from my Facebook page and created a duplicate page, posting I was in deep financial trouble and needed all my friends to send money to me at her address because she was collecting donations on my behalf.

Lest you think scammers are only young women, I had a 56-year-old woman tell me she was terribly lonely and she knew I must be lonely as well, and for a modest fee she would come and live with me so I wouldn’t be lonely anymore.

Finally, there was a woman who wrote to me on social media to say that she had inherited over $1 million from her grandmother and if I would come to live with her in Hollywood, California, she would she would share the money with me if I would help her manage her grandmother’s jewelry business.

There are also plenty of mail scammers plotting to fleece you as well.

Most recently, I purchased a voice recorder for doing interviews with “exceptional seniors,” to feature them in this column. The recorder was purchased with the understanding that I could return it if I was unable to manipulate the controls because of my disability. When I discovered I could not use the equipment, I called the seller and he welcomed me to return the item.

This surprised me because it meant that he was not going to make any money on the sale. Little did I realize how he would eventually respond to turn things in his favor. When I found he had not refunded my money, I called to ask for the reason. He told me he was returning the recorder to me because I had abused the equipment and scratched it, and used it to the degree that it was unfit to be resold.

I responded by saying when it was returned it was in pristine condition, and not like he had reported. He wrote me an email saying he still expected me to pay for the equipment, and he was so incensed by my behavior in trying to cheat him that I was banned from his business.

He also added that, although I was a bad customer, he would take me back if I recanted, paid him the money I owed for the recorder, and apologized for what I had perpetrated against him and his business.

Dealing with scammers

It should be obvious to you by now, dear reader, that the best strategy to use in dealing with scammers is one of prevention rather than intervention. Unfortunately, this requires you and me to be vigilant and prepared for those persons who will attempt to steal whatever income or identity we possess. Practically speaking, this means don’t answer the phone or the door, or engage with anyone outside of your home, unless you know them personally or have made an appointment with them to conduct business.

Don’t sign any papers, or reveal any personal information someone could use in a malicious action against you, and, if possible, always have a friend, neighbor or family member present when you have to deal with a stranger. This includes professional people, persons with sterling reputations and anyone who creates a suspicion in your personal dealings.

If you are confronted with a scamming situation, immediately tell someone about it, even before you may call the police or someone in authority.

If you have access and can afford a legal consultation, you have everything to gain and only money to lose. Be sure to weigh the cost-benefit ratio. Do a background check on the individual or business in question, notify law enforcement — even the FBI if the scam took place in another state or internationally.

If you’re a resident of Pennsylvania, the attorney general’s offices has a department of consumer protection. Speaking from personal experience, they would be very interested if you have fallen victim to a scammer.

If you have access to a lawyer, a legal consultation may be appropriate if he or she can provide you with significant guidance for dealing with the situation.

FYI: The last elder-law lawyer I consulted charged $375 per hour. For me, this cost was prohibitive and I will not do it again. Unfortunately, the cost did not equal the benefits I received.

This 4-year-old was given a second chance at life through a heart transplant

In the final analysis, remember the old Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.” If you are willing to follow these simple guidelines, the chances are good that you will not become prey for these unscrupulous persons.

Robert Olson is a pastoral counselor and family therapist who specializes in geriatric issues. He invites comments and speaking invitations at

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