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Echo Press Editorial: Be on lookout for wire fraud

It happens all too often: An elderly person is bilked out of money by a slick, persuasive or pushy con artist.

The victims are led to believe they are doing the right thing: helping a relative out of a jam, supporting a good cause, getting a prize or fulfilling a legal obligation. But the money, sadly, does nothing except line the pockets of the crooks who made the phony phone calls, e-mails or letters.

Studies show older Americans are scammed out of an estimated $2.5 billion a year.

One of the most popular “tools” in a con artist’s bag of tricks are wire transfers. Seniors are frequently tricked into wiring money, believing they are paying for the release of a grandchild from jail or to secure the payment of jackpot winnings in foreign countries, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Fortunately, there are new safeguards to protect seniors from these devious deceptions. The Minnesota Legislature enacted new laws to combat wire fraud.

“Being defrauded out of tens of thousands of dollars late in life can be devastating, and it happens to thousands of seniors every year,” said Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “Seniors and their loved ones need to protect themselves from fraud and spot the signs of elder financial abuse through wire transfer fraud.”

Under the new law, when consumers send money transfers, they may request the money transmitter to notify them if a person attempts to collect their money transfer at a location other than the one they have designated. Consumers may also request that the money transmitter provide them with verification that their money transfer was collected at the location they designated and the name of the person collecting their money transfer. The new law prohibits money transmitters from allowing a person to collect a money transfer at a location other than the location a consumer has designated unless the money transmitter has obtained the consumer’s authorization to do so. Also included in the new law are expanded tools for the commerce department to regulate the industry and increased penalties for bad actors.

Unfortunately, some seniors don’t have the mental acuity to recognize a potential scam or are too embarrassed to admit they were swindled. Here, according to the commerce department, are some signs for loved ones of aging relatives to watch for:

• Unusual banking transactions that are inconsistent with past behavior.

• Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money or closing accounts without regard to penalties.

• Changes in spending habits, such as giving large, unexpected gifts, suddenly missing routine bill payments, or developing secrecy around money.

Other signs of financial fraud might be:

• Confusion over recent financial transactions that included property transfers, refinanced mortgages, or legal documents, such as wills, have unexplained changes.

• A lack of basic amenities or belongings have gone missing.

• A new friend has taken an unusual interest in a senior and has assumed power of attorney or gained access to financial accounts.

• A caregiver is unable to adequately provide for the senior’s basic needs and is secretive about the senior’s finances.

Statistics show that up to 80 percent of elder financial abuse goes unreported. Don’t let these scammers get away with it. Be on the lookout for wire fraud, take full advantage of the laws that offer protection and report any suspicious scams to authorities. Let’s leave more of these con artists empty handed and behind bars.