Posts Tagged ‘scam artists’

Retirees, Watch Out for Scammers

Posted on: August 8th, 2010 by

Financial Advisor - Rockville, MDAnnuities, reverse mortgages, life insurance pools, principal-protected notes… the options being offered to senior citizens hoping to ensure a comfortable retirement are innumerable. And in a growing number of cases, that may be the intention as more scammers, often the elderly themselves, try to con retirees. Though hard numbers are difficult to come by, many lawyers and advocates for the elderly say more seniors than ever are being lured into investment schemes that are unsuitable for people of their age or are outright swindles.

One out of five Americans over the age of 65 has been the victim of a financial scam. That means more than 7.3 million seniors have been taken advantage of financially through inappropriate investments, high fees, or fraud. Many of today’s scam artists have a particularly good understanding of their victims, this being because the fraudsters themselves are of retirement age, if not exactly retired. More elderly con artists than ever seem to be preying on retirees, perhaps because senior citizens put more confidence in someone their age.

In November, William Kirshner, 84, a financial adviser in Corpus Christi, Tex., was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing more than $100,000 from senior citizens and other clients who invested in promissory notes issued by his company. Ronald Keith Owens, 74, was sentenced to 60 years in prison in January 2009 for persuading investors, including retirees, to put more than $2.6 million into nonexistent bank-related investments. And William Walter Spencer, 68, a Franklin (Tenn.) financial adviser, sold elderly members of his church promissory notes that turned out to be bogus.

Veterans are one of the biggest targets. Several groups offer to help former soldiers sign up for a $2,000-a-month benefit from the Veterans Affairs Dept. in Washington. While the program is real, some groups are telling seniors they can only qualify if they liquidate their assets and purchase an annuity, which usually comes with a hefty sales commission.

Reverse mortgages, which let people aged 62 and older get cash out of their homes and are repaid when the borrower dies or moves, are a big part of many scams. One popular ruse is urging the elderly to finance annuity purchases with a reverse mortgage, despite a ban on cross-selling them with other financial products. Other unsuitable investments being pushed on seniors are pools of life insurance policies, similar to the bundles of home mortgages that helped fuel the financial crisis. Some of these have turned out to include policies that don’t exist, and it’s unclear whether they’re supposed to be overseen by state insurance regulators or the Securities & Exchange Commission.

Principal-protected notes are another investment being pushed on the elderly. Seniors tend to fall for these because the name makes it sound as if they’re risk-free; in fact the principal isn’t always protected, as holders of notes backed by Lehman Brothers learned when the firm collapsed.

The new financial regulatory reform bill would crack down on advisers who market themselves as specialists in investments for seniors, and another measure would include harsher penalties for anyone committing securities fraud against the elderly. “We need better regulation of this industry,” says 75-year-old Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who heads the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, “so seniors can tell the difference between professionals who offer clear and unbiased financial advice and bad actors… who steer them toward inappropriate financial products.”

Identity Theft – Offense is the Best Defense

Posted on: May 5th, 2010 by

Financial Planning - Rockville, MDWhile hackings of corporate databases demonstrate that no one is completely safe from identity theft, there are precautions you can take in order to minimize the odds of becoming a victim.  The first thing is to absolutely, at all costs, protect your Social Security number.  Do not print it on any form of personal identification, especially your checks.  Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet and try to avoid using it as a personal identifier when at all possible.  You never know who will have access to that data later.

Second, protect your mail.  To make your mailbox a less attractive target for identity thieves, try to reduce the amount of unsolicited offers you receive.  When you receive pre-approved credit card offers or insurance offers in the mail, shred them before you discard them.  You can opt out of receiving pre-approved offers simply by going to a free website called

Remember to either cancel your mail or have someone pick it up for you daily when you go on vacation.  If you don’t, the mounting pile of mail looks like a goldmine to con artists.  Also, they look at your trash as a prime target.  Any items that you plan to discard, including credit card offers, ATM receipts, bank statements, utility bills, or anything with any personal information on it should be shredded.   When you are disposing of expired credit cards, make sure they, too, are completely destroyed before discarding them.

Beware of the ever present telephone scam artists as well.  High-pressure callers often demand personal information with scams such as the promise of an extravagant vacation that you can only have if you act now.  I would just go with the rule that you should never provide personal information over the phone if you did not initiate the call.  And to limit these calls, you can ask the callers to place you on the do-not-call list and register with the National Do Not Call Registry.

Always safeguard your computer.  This is one of the easiest ways to get hit nowadays.  Never respond to unsolicited requests for personal information and ALWAYS use virus protection.  Protect your computer with a password and change it on a regular basis.  Another good idea is from time to time, search the internet for your name and last 4 digits of your SSN.  You would be surprised what people have found.

Make sure you protect the contents of your wallet.  On the backs of your credit cards, instead of signing them, write “photo ID required”; if your credit cards are stolen, it will be more difficult for a thief to make purchases.  Its always a good idea to make photocopies of everything in your wallet, since many of us have such an over abundance, so it your wallet is stolen, you have all the information you need to cancel everything.

Its a sad state of affairs when not even the deceased are safe from identity theft.  But, when a loved one does pass away, obtain several copies of the official death certificate and notify all financial institutions, insurance companies, credit card companies, and loan holders.  Its extremely important to remove the deceased relative’s name from all joint accounts as well.  And finally, contact the credit bureaus and request a deceased alert so that if their credit report is pulled, companies know the person is deceased and no credit should be issued in their name.

Identity theft is, unfortunately, a daily crime that we must all pay attention to and not stick our heads in the sand.  Your best tool is to take the offensive and do everything in your power to prevent the thieves from targeting you.  If you notice any suspicious activity on your financial statements, report it immediately and notify the credit bureaus.