I’m David Brancaccio, host of the Marketplace Morning Report. We just wrapped up a big series called “Brains and Losses,” exploring how we become more vulnerable to financial scams as we age.

This kind of exploitation can come from anywhere: anonymous fraudsters on the phone or family members and caregivers. It doesn’t just affect seniors with dementia either — people who are otherwise on the ball are susceptible. According to one study, seniors lose $36 billion a year to financial fraud.

For this series, we travelled all over the country gathering stories from victims and their families. We also heard from experts who say it’s time to have a national conversation about financial abuse and the elderly.

One of those experts is Dr. Mark Lachs, who’s joining me for this AMA ( u/DrMarkLachs). He’s is Professor of Medicine and Co-Chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Medical College.

Mark’s one of the most highly-respected physician scientists in the field of elder abuse. He’s testified before the Senate Committee on Aging, spoken at the White House and served as a consultant to the World Health Organization. He recently founded Elderabuse.org, the first nationwide charity and grant-making organization dedicated to fighting elder abuse.

He also wrote the book, “Treat Me, Not My Age,” which confronted “medical ageism” and how older patients’ concerns are often dismissed or overtreated based on their age.

Here’s my proof, and Mark’s.

We’re here to answer your questions about aging, scams, how to talk with your loved ones about their money, or anything else you want to know. (We can also talk about our hobbies: Mark likes restoring antique electronics and ham radio. I launch high-powered "model" rockets.)

Comments: 82 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

cahaseler12 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA, David and Mark!

What do you think is the most important step we can take to protect our elderly loved ones from scams like this?

DavidBrancaccio12 karma

Well, number one, if you are the trust loved one, be involved, be present, check in regularly. Experts also say showing people what the top frauds look like is also a big help. People are less likely to fall for computer tech support scams, for instance, once they learn about them. Here's a Senate publication listing top scams. It's a great resource. https://www.collins.senate.gov/sites/default/files/2019%20Fraud%20Book.pdf

DavidBrancaccio4 karma

Something else: stock brokers are now required to ask clients for the name of a trusted contact they can reach out to if they suspect someone is being victimized. Banks don't have to ask for that. However, if bank personnel get some training, they are allowed to report to social services and other authorities if they see signs of fraud (new protections are there so they don't violate privacy rules if they raise a fraud alarm)

Jesus_This_Is_Iggy7 karma

Look forward to 0750 on my local NPR station to hear Marketplace and sincerely appreciate the job you and your staff do David. Miss the Golden Age of TV with your show NOW followed by Bill Moyers. Need you both now more than ever.


DavidBrancaccio5 karma

Thank you! Yes, you mentioned my staff, my colleagues. They do all the work and they're the best. I show up with my radio voice and (when on TV) my haircut.

PIMMknowsbest5 karma

My mom is recently turning 65 and I have already have been a watchdog on keeping her away from financial scams (emails for "free" vacations, calls from various "charities," and the classic "wire-transfer-to-a-foriegn-country" scheme).

Is there any way to protect her from these without making her feel-- in her own words-- dumb or foolish?

DavidBrancaccio8 karma

Yes, this role can be awkward. But think of it as a partnership. Two heads are better than one in protecting against scams. But you can point out the truth: younger people are also vulnerable to scams. It's not about dumb or foolish. It's just that researchers are suggesting that many people as they get older have increasingly trouble spotting scams or resisting. Scammers are also adept at activating a potential victim's emotions, which may temporarily cloud our critical thinking skills.

chrome-spokes3 karma

Hello! Thank you very much for your efforts, and for the IAmA here.

...doesn’t just affect seniors with dementia either —people who are otherwise on the ball are susceptible.

Questions as to this:

1) Could you give examples of how scammers initiate such?

2) And what we seniors can do to only look out for these?

3) Lastly, what we should do if we suspect an attempted fraud on us?

DavidBrancaccio3 karma

There are all sorts of ways they try to get their hooks into you. A common method is the computer tech support scam. You see a message on your computer saying there's a computer virus. A company volunteers to help. Some of those are scammers. The typical loss is about $600. However in our series we met a 79 year old nurse who ended up losing nearly $200,000. The government has an interesting document about this: https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/protecting-older-consumers-2017-2018-report-congress-federal-trade-commission/protecting_older_consumers_-_ftc_report_10-18-18.pdf

DavidBrancaccio3 karma

As for your second question, experts tell us people think about having a special talk with trusted loved ones. We know we're supposed to have a will. Our doctors remind us about advanced directives (living wills) when we go in for an operation. What we may also need to do is have a conversation about what happens in the future when we need help managing day to day finances. Who should help? What rules would you set for this should this become necessary some day?

DrMarkLachs3 karma

Here's another tip for avoiding scams: Don't answer your cell phone unless you know who it is! Once an older adult responds to these overtures you become even more of a target. Probably good advice for young people too!

DavidBrancaccio5 karma

We ran into this a lot while reporting. Many millenials are perfectly happy letting a ringing phone go unanswered. Older generations find it extremely to touch not to pick up the phone. Picking up an unknown call can lead to real financial losses.

chrome-spokes1 karma

Thank you for those two.

Anything on question #3? (Phone calls-- I do report to the govt. do not call complaint website. Results, who knows?)

May perhaps be off-topic... speaking where I'm at for the after-death stuff is who to talk with, professionally, about choosing a regular will or a living trust, and setting up?

Living will & funeral arrangements already in place, whew!

DavidBrancaccio3 karma

I'm sorry to say it's very hard to get money back once it's gone to a fraudster. Not impossible, but not likely. The FBI has it's Internet Crime Complaints Center, IC3, where you can file a report. When they find patterns they pass these along to various law enforcement jurisdictions. We did feature a family where the kids noticed the dad had fallen into the clutches of a known con artist. The challenge was the dad didn't want to believe his new "friend" was a fraudster. It took a year of convincing. The family, due in part to an especially dedicated police detective and local prosecutor, won partial restiution for the dad.

napalmx3 karma

Hi David, thanks for stopping by! I just wanted to thank you and your team for the excellent program you produce each day. Its incredible how much substance you are able to pack into a short segment.

I can't think of any questions off thetop of my head so I'll ask about your hobby - how did you get into rocketry and have you had any notable launches? I was into it as a teenager and it's cool to see that the hobby is alive.


DavidBrancaccio3 karma

Yep. Since I was a boy. I used to pretend my kids were interested but it was mainly about me. I have Level 1 certification to fly up to "I" motors. I built a Saturn V on the 25th anniversary of the moon landing and it's still flying now that it's the 50th (after some not-so-minor crashes...). I also designed a small Tintin rocket based on the Belgian comic strip. It's had its ups and downs.

mookler3 karma

Hey David!

Bit of a more meta question... What do you think is the 'key' to making a successful podcast?

DavidBrancaccio6 karma

Humans retain stories not cascades of data. So compelling storytelling is the trick. If all we had to consult is our wonderful panel of experts for Brains and Losses, we could have done this in one month. Finding the people who could tell compelling personal stories about their encounters with fraudsters was the hard part, but I think made the show resonate. Also, it's about your audience, not about you. Keep your podcast listeners in mind at all times.

vanish0073 karma

Hi David and Mark, thanks for your time!

I wanted to ask, do you had any advice or reading you could recommend for millennials that have to take care of aging parents? Especially when we still have student loans and are trying to increase income by competing for better jobs (and of course living below one's means).

DrMarkLachs3 karma

At the risk of self-promoting (and I think you could probably get it now for $2 on ebay) you could read my book on this topic called 'Treat Me, Not My Age' also in paperback under the title 'What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Getting Older'. I tried to give lots of practical advice for older people and their families.

DavidBrancaccio5 karma

Here let me say it since I don't have a financial interest in the answer: Get Mark's book!

And here another good resource. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in DC has come out with some guides to managing someone ELSE's money, such as an older loved one.


DavidBrancaccio3 karma

I guess we have to wrap this up for now. Reddit gang: these questions were magnificent. Thank you. And thank you to Dr. Mark Lachs for his wisdom and time here! And if you're ever stuck in traffic, get your passenger to navigate the phone over to: https://www.marketplace.org/2019/05/16/brains-losses-aging-fraud-financial-scams-seniors/ and hit the big green "listen" button for our deep dive into this topic. Arrivederci. David

cakestabber3 karma

How much of a role do the elderly population's 'trust in institutions play into their likelihood of being scammed? Most of these scammers seem to be impersonating banks and other financial institutions, or the government (IRS especially during tax refund season).

Along similar lines, are people of certain backgrounds more likely to be scammed than others? To put it bluntly, most of the firsthand accounts I've read of scam victims tend to come from elderly whites (who may have an inclination to trust the aforementioned institutions than, say, POCs or younger people).

DavidBrancaccio4 karma

Well, that can play a role. I saw video testimony from a military vet from my home state of Maine who said he was drawn into a scam in part because as a military man, he was used to saluting when ordered to do something by the government. I thought that was interesting. But this is a good place to remind ourselves that 58 percent of all financial abuse of older people is carried out by FAMILY. So it's complicated.

BaldBullKO2 karma

Hi David and Mark... It seems like scam calls have hit an all-time high for everyone. Can't tell you how many I get for refinancing my student loans and I've never even had them. From your reporting did you learn why cracking down on these types of calls is so difficult? Does the current push for deregulation have anything to do with it?

Thank you!

DavidBrancaccio2 karma

At the end of June, the House and Senate agreed on compromise legislation to crack down. It would do a lot of things, including upping pressure on telecoms to better identify the spam calls. We'll see where that goes. There were an estimated 50 billion robocalls last year, way up from recent years.

love_the_heat1 karma

Hi David! Great idea for a show, thank you for putting it together. How long did it take once the idea was pitched before you could go into production?

DavidBrancaccio2 karma

This thing took a while. We're so used to turning stories around in an hour or two. I was interested in the aging and financial vulnerability topic for a number of years after seeing some of Dr. Mark's published work. But the first interviews for Brains and Losses were a year and a half before broadcast. It took forever to find brave people willing to share their stories. As we reported, some people feel shame if they've been victimized. Also, I learned that some older victims worry that talking about the scam will invite their family to become OVERLY involved in their money affairs. Or that the wrong family members might take advantage.

portlandcsc1 karma

What is the easiest scam on elders to stop, but most prevalent?

DavidBrancaccio3 karma

Well one of the hardest to stop is the romance scam. People follow their hearts against all other evidence sometimes. Easiest? Dr. Mark said it best: Don't answer or return phone calls from people you don't know.

ObjectFI1 karma

People of all ages are susceptible to scams. Is there any indication that someone that falls for scams when younger will be especially susceptible to scams later in life? Or does being a victim when younger make people better at detecting scams as they age?

Also, are there any financial instruments that are especially helpful for vulnerable people?


DavidBrancaccio2 karma

Researchers made it clear to me that life experience (wisdom) counts and can be a kind of antidote to other changes that might make people more vulnerable as they age. For instance, young people who don't have much experience filing tax returns with the IRS might not know that the IRS NEVER TELEPHONES. Seniors who been doing taxes for years are better acquainted with the rules. But researchers such as Dr. Lachs point out that the "Age-Associated Financial Vulnerability" concept is about a vulnerability that develops later in life. Alas some of us were always bad with money...

Dakam1 karma

What do you think is the role that scambaiting plays in preventing others from becoming victim to these fraudsters?

DavidBrancaccio2 karma

You do gotta be careful on that stuff. One of the wild details in our special report is the fake sweepstakes scammer who picked the wrong potential victim: the former head of the FBI and former head of the CIA William Webster. He spotted the scam right away but strung them along instead of just hanging up and not engaging. That scammer's calls escalated to terrifying threats. They did bust the guy eventually when he flew into the US from Jamaica and got sentenced to a long stretch, so there's that.

pdxcascadian1 karma

I have heard about seniors being more susceptible to financial fraud, but how does/could this apply to politics? I hear people like Bill Maher talk about ageism in politics, claiming that people are at their peak "wisdom" around the same age that these studies are telling us that they're also more susceptible to fraud. If someone is more likely to be duped by a financial scam aren't they just as likely (I'm assuming more actually) to be taken in by conspiracy theories and scare tactic politics? Do you think the vulnerability, despite otherwise seeming healthy, could spill out into politics? (Trump, Biden, McConnell, Sanders, Pelosi, etc are all well into their 70's and even 80's, isn't that well into the age of vulnerability?)

DavidBrancaccio3 karma

You know, I asked that question of researchers during the reporting of this. There's data to the contrary, that seniors are LESS likely to be duped by fake news and conspiracy theories compared with younger people because--ready for this? Because they tend to consult more established, reliable news sources. As for whether senior politicians who are seniors might be financially vulnerable, let's remind ourselves of something I heard over and over during my research: Warren Buffett, who is not a spring chicken, will always be smarter about money than, say, me. This is about SOME people as they age.

cakestabber1 karma

Here's something I struggle with (related to the comment from /u/cahaseler): I've forwarded links (from Marketplace and other sources) to my parents / in-laws, and make sure to talk about financial scams on a semi-regular basis. I know they're reading it, and they're engaged in the discussions we've had (in short, they're still mentally sharp).

And yet, about a month ago, FIL falls victim to a tech support scam (thankfully he didn't lose anything because we had a scheduled phone call, and I told him to pull the plug (literally) - the scammer was using a GoToMeeting type tool to root around his computer).

In short, you can be doing the right things, and some scammers still succeed in spite of that.

Beyond talking, and making sure they are aware that scams do happen, is there anything else more direct that one can do to look after our elderly relatives' affairs, other than filing a power-of-attorney for them?

DavidBrancaccio3 karma

That's such a terrifying, teachable point: Here you are, actively trying to raise consciousness about scams, and the fraudsters still get close. We have a family in our piece where the father moves in with the adult son. They share a home office. And the son keeps having to intervene when he overhears scams in progress. The big gun in all this--and very tough to pull off in many cases--is conservatorship/guardianship. And even that relationship can be abused by corrupt guardians. With my own family, the goal is for me and my siblings to be present in their lives; we are not judgemental; and we make it clear that if they ever had a moment's question about a financial decision, we can be a sounding board at the touch of a text or phone call.

Merari011 karma

What is the best thing an average person can do to stop these things?

DavidBrancaccio4 karma

Repeat after me: "Do not send money to people you don't know." And, again, read this list of the 2019 common scams, https://www.collins.senate.gov/sites/default/files/2019%20Fraud%20Book.pdf