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Seniors often targets of financial fraud

WILLMAR -- Anyone can become a victim of financial fraud, but one demographic -- the elderly -- are especially vulnerable to these types of scams.

According to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, senior citizens control nearly 70 percent of the nation's wealth and therefore can be prime targets for financial fraud and abuse.

"Seniors are the targets of financial fraud every day," Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said in the release. "The best line of defense is prevention through education. Whether you are being solicited over the phone, through email or someone knocking on your door, seniors must take steps to prevent becoming the next victim."

A 2010 Investor Protection Trust survey found that more than 7 million Americans 65 and older have already been a victim of financial fraud. Nationwide, the elderly lose $2.5 billion each year because of these scams.

Willmar Police Capt. Jim Felt estimates that locally, the department receives about one call a week involving an older adult being scammed financially.

"It does happen. It's not spreading like wildfire, but it does happen here," he said.

Mailings -- such as those claiming a person has won the lottery -- or phone calls are the most common types of scams reported in this area, Felt said. For a while, the Police Department was receiving several reports of con artists calling an elderly person and pretending to be their grandchild to have money wired.

"They would say that they're in trouble and were arrested in Canada and needed money sent right away," Felt said. "They were vague enough so that these people thought they might be their grandchild. They would send the money orders and then never see that money again."

Ashley Ronglien, senior outreach specialist at the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging, said that mailings involving Medicare and Medical Assistance are also a common way of scamming seniors.

"Seniors often take many drugs, which can be expensive, and so when they receive a mailing saying they can save money, they think it's a great idea," Ronglien said.

Ronglien regularly gives presentations to groups throughout the nine-county area on preventing and dealing with elderly financial fraud. She says being educated about the issue is the first step to preventing financial scams.

"Seniors should treat their Medicare card like they would a credit card," Ronglien said. "They should shred any paperwork that has sensitive information on it. Don't share personal information over the phone to anyone who calls you, and don't speak to door-to-door salesmen trying to sell Medicare plans. That's illegal, and no one should be doing that."

Felt said that seniors should also trust their instincts when it comes to suspicious calls or mailings involving money.

"If it appears too good to be true, it probably is," he said. "Not everyone wins the lottery. Always ask for more information. Be on the lookout and listen to those warning flags when they go off."

Felt said it's also important to report any cases of financial fraud to the police. Even if seniors don't respond to the fraudulent letters or calls, they should still forward them to law enforcement, he said.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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