Op-Ed: Smart Seniors Don’t Get Scammed
Op-Ed published in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
By Eric T. Schneiderman
We’re all at risk of becoming victims of investment fraud. Losing money on a bogus investment can happen to anyone. But older adults are at special risk.
Scammers go after seniors because they’ve worked their whole lives and may have cash in the bank and own their home. As people grow older, they often experience cognitive decline — setting them up as particularly easy prey.
Scams work by playing on your emotions. Con artists may buy you lunch or invite you to a free seminar and then launch a hard sell for a worthless investment. They may belong to your church or your favorite organization or ethnic group – or they may pretend to – and use that association to get you to trust them. That’s what Bernie Madoff did.
They may pressure you by telling you that if you don’t act right now, you’ll lose out on a terrific opportunity.
No one knows how many older adults fall victim to scams because investment fraud is grossly underreported. For every complaint of financial or investment fraud involving a senior citizen filed with a law enforcement or social service agency, an estimated 24 more cases go unreported. But the annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is estimated at $2.9 billion.
Many victims don’t go to the authorities because it’s embarrassing to admit you were taken. But law enforcement can stop these criminals only if victims come forward.
My office’s Investor Protection Bureau has investigators and prosecutors who specialize in elder investment fraud cases. And my office is co-sponsoring programs all around the state to teach older adults how to detect financial fraud.
The first line of defense is to avoid being victimized. And the best way to do that is to follow this basic rule: Before you invest, investigate.
Check out the brokerage firm. Verify the broker’s registration and whether he or she has violated any laws. Make sure the investment is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or another regulatory body.
If you feel someone may be trying to rip you off, say you want to think about it. Don’t make a commitment. Ask someone you trust for an opinion.
Financial scams peak around the holidays, so now is the time to learn how to defend yourself. Be smart seniors and smart investors — don’t get scammed.