Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Con Artists Prey on Isolation, Trusting Nature and Retirement Money

By CHLOE WHITE Scripps Howard News Service Bradenton,Florida

Beaulis and Helen Lively are a friendly, elderly couple in their 80s. They have ample financial assets and live comfortably in a nice house in Lenoir City, Tenn.,where they regularly attend church. And they were the perfect targets for a con artist who preys on seniors.

The couple was scammed in 1998 by a man who claimed to be a minister. He was a well-groomed young man in his 30s who "seemed so sincere," Helen Lively said. "But he was nothing like he claimed to be."

The man came to the couple's church in 1997 and said he was a minister who was new in town. He offered to help the church find a new building, and once he gained the congregation's trust, he took money that the church members had been saving for the new building.

The real scam started before the con artist took the church's money, though. The con artist found a new target once he saw the Livelys' home, Lively said.

The man made up a story about a pending workers' compensation settlement in Florida, and he asked the couple if he could borrow money until the settlement came in, Lively said. The couple took out a $20,000 loan from the bank and gave it to him, plus "a little bit here and there," eventually totaling $30,000. He signed an "IOU," promising to pay the money back to the couple, but "that didn't amount to a hill of beans," Lively said.

The man fled with the couple's and the church's money, and neither the Livelys nor the church will see their money again, Lively said.

Unfortunately, this type of scam happens too often,
said Lisa Yarber, director of Sevier County, Tenn., Senior Center and Office on Aging. Seniors are targeted because they are often isolated, and many of them have families who live out of state and unable to constantly monitor them, she said. In addition, many of these seniors have retirement money.

Fraud is a major threat, yet many seniors forget about it, said John Bordenet, an expert in the field of fraud and abuse. "They underrate the threat of fraud and don't think they can be fooled by a younger person."

Furthermore, many seniors do not report fraud if it happens to them because they're embarrassed, Bordenet said.

There are multiple types of scams, including street crimes, which involve direct contact between the con artist and victim. This catches the victim off guard and gives him or her little time to react, Yarber said. Telemarketing crimes, door-to-door scams, e-mail and direct mail scams are popular ways for con artists to target seniors.

Bordenet said that there are complex scams, such as a "pigeon draw," in which a circumstance develops when a con artist "finds a lot of money and claims he doesn't know what to do with it, so a bizarre scheme is developed to share the money with the victim, who is asked to put in good faith money."

"If you're 83 years old, and an individual has been with your family for over 10 years, you trust them," Yarber said. "Some of these people are educated, some are not so educated, but the issue is still out there, and so many people are unaware. So we need to educate people about getting checks taken from them or taking land and deeding it over to the person you trust."

Contact Chloe White of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at

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