Editorial - Senior numbers rising and so is risk for scams
Here's a fact to ponder from the Minnesota Department of Commerce: Within this decade, there will be more Minnesotans older than age 65 than children enrolled in our public schools.
The point: Senior citizens across the country hold the majority of the nation's wealth and scam artists know it.
As part of Financial Literacy Month, the commerce department and AARP held a tele-town hall meeting this week for Minnesota's seniors, telling them about the importance of protecting themselves from financial fraud.
AARP reached out to roughly 20,000 members and asked them to stay on the line to learn how to spot fraud, protect themselves from financial scams, and learn who to turn to if they or a loved one have been victimized.
It happens all too often in Douglas County. Scammers have resorted to all kinds of devious schemes to try and bilk elderly people out of their hard-earned money.
One popular ploy is the grandchild trick where they'll call numbers at random, hoping to come across an elderly person's voice. When they do, they'll say, "Grandpa (or grandma)? This is your grandson." The grandparent, the scammer hopes, will respond by saying their grandchild's name and the plot thickens from there. The caller will say he's in an embarrassing financial jam in another state or country and needs cash to avoid jail. Sadly, some seniors have been taken in by the scam, providing financial information that gives the crooks a direct path to their money.
The commerce department notes that because of age-related factors, illnesses, and cognitive impairment, many older adults are particularly vulnerable to investment fraud and financial exploitation. Senior citizens control nearly 70 percent of the nation's wealth - and crooks know it, often making seniors a prime target for fraud. In fact, older consumers lose $2.5 billion every year to financial abuse - a startling statistic that Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman is working to change.
"The best line of defense against fraud is prevention, education, and reporting it," said Rothman. "Whether you are being solicited over the phone, by mail, e-mail, or at your door, we are here to help seniors protect themselves and stop fraud and abuse."
The commerce department offers the following steps Minnesota seniors can take to protect themselves from scams:
End the call. There is no such thing as being rude when protecting yourself and your investments from scammers. If a solicitor makes you uncomfortable or is confusing, just hang up. Trust your instincts.
Phone a friend. When Rothman's grandmother is called by a solicitor over the phone, the first thing she does is call Rothman. You should identify a trusted friend or family member you can call for questions and advice.
Report the fraud. The Minnesota Department of Commerce is here to help. Report the fraud so others don't fall victim to the same scam.
Locally, seniors can also call the Douglas County Sheriff's Office at (320) 762-8151.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce Consumer Help Line can be reached by phone at 1-800-657-3602.
Complaints can also be sent by e-mail to consumer.protection
@state.mn.us or by mail to Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 7th Place East, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55101.