“Hi, Poppa. I’m in trouble.”
Ira Slakter says it really DID sound like his grandson on the other end of the phone line that day about six months ago. The caller wove an elaborate tale of how he got into a car accident, briefly left the scene, was hauled in front of a judge on a hit-and-run charge and was told by authorities he was on the hook for tow truck charges. And that he needed “five or six” hundred dollars.
But Slakter wasn’t falling for it.
“My grandson is in college and doesn’t have a car,” says Slakter. “So I said, ‘Whose car are you driving?’ “
The caller hung up.
The key, Slakter says, is to ask them a question they can’t answer. The “them,” in this case, being con artists working a swindle known as “The Grandparent Scam.” It’s one of many Slakter warns his fellow senior citizens about all the time.
The 81-year-old retired advertising executive from Boynton Beach is a member of Seniors Versus Crime, a statewide program created by Florida’s Attorney General 30 years ago. The program enlists retirees to educate their neighbors about fraud scams that target seniors.
This past April, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis addressed disturbing studies showing that Florida is now home to 18 of the country’s top 50 cities for fraud — the most of any state. Patronis issued a press release calling Florida’s fraud and identity theft rates “outrageous and totally unacceptable.”
And according to Slakter, who’s been working with Seniors Versus Crime for nearly 18 years, scams targeting Florida’s senior population often go unreported; the victims are often too embarrassed to tell anyone they’ve been cheated.
Slakter generally makes his presentations before gatherings at Palm Beach County community centers, armed with newspaper clippings about the myriad schemes older people need to watch out for. In addition to “The Grandparent Scam,” Medicare fraud and phony investment schemes, there’s “The Pigeon Drop.” That’s when con artists say they’ve found a large sum of money they’re willing to split – if only the victim would first make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from their own bank account. There are also phony charities and funeral scams.
One of the reasons that senior citizens are so heavily targeted by con artists is their net worth. According to a 2016 study by senior advocacy group AARP, people 50 and older hold 83% of the wealth in America.
In addition, there’s growing scientific evidence that neurological changes associated with getting older could lead to increased vulnerability to scams. Various studies Slakter refers to regularly in his sessions show that an aging brain gradually loses its ability to detect untrustworthiness in other people.
So what can senior citizens do to keep one step ahead of con artists? Slakter says they should check their financial information (bank accounts, credit card statements, credit ratings, etc.) as often as possible. Also, if they’re approached by someone with an offer that sounds too good to be true, Slakter advises seniors to remember “T-I-N-S-T-A-A F-L”: an acronym that sounds like “tin-stoffle.”
“It stands for ‘There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch,’ ”says Slakter.
For more information:
Ira Slakter is helping organize a forum on consumer fraud and identity theft to be held in the spring of 2020. The title of the meeting is “One Billion Identity Thefts — Were You One of Them?”
It’s tentatively scheduled for March 23rd, 2020 at 1PM at the Boynton Beach Mandel Jewish Community Center, 8500 Jog Rd, Boynton Beach, FL 33472