The request for personal data seems like a simple thing when the chance to win millions is presented. However, the more information seniors give to sweepstakes scammers, the more vulnerable they become.
Ninety-one year old “Jenny,” came very close to joining the ranks of elderly Americans who are scammed by thieves luring victims with the promise of millions of dollars, as reported in a recent Forbes article, “Sweepstakes Entries And Your Aging Parent: Know The Danger.” While her real name isn’t “Jenny,” her story is real and this scam takes place every day. She loved sweepstakes, was convinced that eventually she would win and believed that her chances of winning increased with every additional form she filled out.
Jenny had signs of diminished capacity for a few years, with short term memory loss and confusion. Other than that, she still lived independently in a senior community in her own apartment.
Many seniors fear running out of money because people can outlive their assets and may require expensive long-term care. It is no wonder that so many seniors enter sweepstakes contests to win a jackpot. However, these lists of contestants have been sold to marketers who target the elderly to sell them things they don’t need. There are no one guarantees of privacy for a person's information, once they enter a sweepstakes.
Jenny received a phone call from the sweepstakes informing her that she’d won a million dollars. She only needed to pay the "transfer fee" of $5,000 and the money was hers. When her daughter discovered this, she was mad. She told her mother that this was a scam, but Jenny was convinced that the man on the phone couldn't be lying.
In Jenny’s case, she still had total access to all her funds. Her children contacted her estate planning attorney, and he drafted a Power of Attorney for her son to thwart transactions temporarily, until they could be reviewed. Jenny was lucky that her family was aware of this issue. Many elders are not so fortunate and part with their cash, only to later discover that their "winnings" are a phony check.
Consider these ideas to keep your elderly loved ones safer:
- Sole trustee. A senior who’s the sole trustee on any family trust should be monitored for signs of memory loss and confusion. Dementia robs a person of judgment. If the trust provides for it, ask your impaired senior to resign from being a trustee and allow a more competent person to assume the duties.
- Successor trustee. If your parent believes she's fine when everyone knows she's not, look at her trust’s language about a successor trustee. You should get legal advice about how to address this situation from an experienced estate planning attorney.
- Check the mail. Sweepstakes entry private information is sold and used for illicit activity. Review your aging parent's mail and spot any entry forms and letters. Your loved one could be putting herself at risk by giving personal information to companies that don’t promise to keep it private.
Sweepstakes scammers are yet another reason why adult children can protect their elderly parents by being involved in their day-to-day lives and having an on-going dialogue about finances and “special offers” that arrive by mail and telephone. It’s not always easy, but it is in your family’s best interest.
Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2017) “Sweepstakes Entries And Your Aging Parent: Know The Danger”