Baby Boomers Beware: Scammers are Targeting Seniors

The Boomer is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their golden years. It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to

My wife is 1 of 7 children. She grew up on a block that had a bread and milkman who would drop off their products on the front porch; there was also a beerman that would open the garage door to leave fresh cases of beer and take the empty bottles. The dry cleaner would walk in the house and drop the fresh clothes off on the stairs. My wife lived in the same house for her entire life, and the front door was never locked. When her parents passed away and the children sold the house, they had to have Mr. Keys come in to make a set of keys for the front door. No one in her family ever scrambled looking for the car keys, they were kept in the ignition.

Boy, times sure have changed.

We have deadbolts on our doors and alarm systems protecting our cars. You wouldnt dare leave your home door unlocked, let alone let a non-family enter when you werent there. Yes, there were criminals and dishonest people looking to prey on people back then, but it seems as if it is becoming more prevalent in todays society--particularly among the aging population.

The environment that many boomers parents grew up in presents a unique challenge for us to maintain their safety and security. A 2010 survey by Investor Protection Trust estimated that 1 out of every 5 citizens over age 65  has been a victim of financial scams.  Thats a scary number.

I recently spoke with Emma Dickison, president of Home Helpers, an organization that aims to help Americans over age 65 maintain their independence and lifestyle. Heres what she had to say about protecting our seniors from scams:

Boomer: There have been a number of natural disasters impacting Americans all over the country. What tips or advice can you give on how seniors can protect themselves from weather-related scams?

Dickison: Weather-related scams are typically centered on home improvement or contractor fraud. Often, you can recognize a potential scam just by looking at the tags or license plate of a vehicle used by a contractor/repair main that stops at a seniors home and knocks on the door. The handyman offers to do repairs for the senior at a very reasonable rate, which is hard to pass by. Often in high-emergency related situations, seniors don't take the time to check references or sign a written contract, and many times, fraudster repairmen want all of the money up front, despite there being no contract. Then the work begins, and it is often very shoddy or incomplete if it gets started at all/

Nationwide there are billions of dollars lost due to home-repair fraud targeted at seniors. To protect seniors, we need to insist they check references including the Better Business Bureau. Before agreeing to do business with a repair man or contractor, ask them about licensing credentials and make sure there is a contract in place that protects both parties, gives a timelime of what will be done when, and covers payment.

If a repairman is not willing to sign a contract, that should be a huge red flag.  .

Boomer: How can baby boomers best approach the topic to educate mom and dad so they don't fall prey to an unethical business practice?

Dickison: Boomers need to have an open dialogue with their parents or aging loved ones and talk to them about never letting strangers into their home.

Unfortunately, as we age our memories aren't quite what they use to be and we are very trusting, growing up we were taught to by trusting and polite, so it is easy to fall back to that. Seniors need to remind themselves to remain strong and not be afraid to contact the police because someone won't leave their property. They must also now be suspicious of strangers and even people they know so they don't get taken advantage of.

Boomer: Why are seniors so often the target of these scams?

Dickison: Senior citizens are attractive to con artists because they tend to own their home and have excellent credit, it becomes a natural draw. Seniors have grown up in a generation where it is normal for them to trust a stranger as an adult and they tend to be unsure on how to report fraudor they dont say anything because they dont want others to view them as mentally incapacitated and not able to take care of themselves. Con artists also hope seniors may not remember the details or events of a scam very well.

Con artists tend to really target seniors that are isolated and away from family and friends that might able to come in and help with a situation immediately.

Boomer: What are some non-weather related scams seniors need to be on the watch for?

Dickison: The 65-and-older group is the fastest growing group of internet users and are becoming very savvy in surfing the web and using e-mail. While this is great news, children and loved ones should make sure to set seniors security settings and install anti-virus software. Con artists not only will walk up to your door, but they can get to you online as well. Seniors need to know how to protect themselves online and how to identify potential scams online and in their e-mail. For instance, you get this e-mail from someone in Africa who has $6 million and they are giving it to you and all you need to do is give them some private information&..while it might an obvious scam to most of us, people still fall for it. Its important seniors know that scams happen all the time online and they should never share their personal information with a third party.

E-mail your questions to