Vulnerable Seniors


Helen and her husband Antonio (not their real names) were close friends of ours, despite the thirty-year age difference between us. They were both accomplished artists. Several of Antonio’s bold colorful prints adorn our walls. In their younger years, they had been ardent left wingers, members of the Communist party. Keep that detail in mind because it has some bearing on this story.

Unfortunately, Antonio died in his early 70s, leaving Helen alone. Her mother had lived to over a hundred, so the prospects were good for her own longevity. In her early 80s, Helen was involved in several troubling incidents. First, a crew arrived at her house in a pick-up truck and offered to repave her driveway for a “reasonable” price. The driveway wasn’t in particular need of repair, but the members of the crew convinced her otherwise. They returned several times for what they claimed were additional repairs and improvements. The final bill was close to $40,000 in 1980s dollars.

All this came to light later when Helen’s children learned of another drain on her very modest resources. She had received a fund-raising call from the presidential campaign of Lyndon LaRouche. That name won’t mean much to most younger readers, but people of a certain age will recognize him as a right-wing conspiracy theorist and anti-semite who was a perennial presidential campaigner. He was a prodigious fund raiser who was later convicted of fraud and sentenced to fifteen years in jail.

Helen started making regular and substantial contributions to LaRouche. How could she do this, someone whose politics ran crosswise to hers? When her children posed that question, she replied, “The man on the phone was such a nice man. I looked forward to getting his calls.” That’s when the children took over her power of attorney.

Helen’s been on my mind this week because of two recent phone calls Rosellen and I have fielded which could have had catastrophic consequences. The first was from someone who was offering a substantial discount on our Xfinity account. The caller had some credible information on our current bill but was seeking our credit card information before he could initiate the discount. We said he should have that information on record because we pay our bill automatically every month. He could not confirm the card number they had on record, which is when we decided that the whole deal was fishy, and it was time to bail out. A call to Xfinity confirmed that they were not offering any discount packages currently. I can’t tell you how tempting this offer was because our Xfinity bill is outrageously high, and we’ve called in the past to ask about possible reduction plans.

The second call came yesterday in the form of a message on our answering machine, which seemed to be offering a refund on our subscription to McAfee virus protection of a couple of hundred dollars, a number substantial enough to demand our attention. Rosellen returned that call to check out its legitimacy, particularly since we don’t use McAfee on any of our computers. Nonetheless, the man on the line began to issue instructions about entering a security code, leading to a link to be downloaded. It was beginning to look very much like the process I’ve been through with my tech support person when he’s legitimately taking over control of my computer to check out a problem. Imagine the havoc that would have resulted if we had followed his instructions, but once again we aborted this process when its potential dangers became clear.

It’s important to note that both of these problematic calls arrived on our land line. Who these days has a land line besides geezers like us? For scammers this provides an opportunity for shooting fish in the proverbial barrel, a concentration of vulnerable people on whom to ply their trade. Now, Rosellen and I are old, but we still have most of our marbles and we have each other. Even though we’re not as tech savvy as younger folks, we still recognize warning signs along the road. Helen was alone and lonely, which made her a particularly ripe target for scammers. There are lots of older people in her position who are at risk of exploitation by unscrupulous parties.

The AARP Bulletin does a pretty good job of running articles about fraud traps that its members should be aware of, but if you’re a senior and alone or have parents in that position you need to be especially vigilant. Unfortunately, all too often we ignore or minimize the fraud warnings.  Helen’s children didn’t learn of the schemes she had fallen for before it was too late. Be vigilant.


This is the time of year when we return to our adopted home state of New Hampshire. We’re excited about seeing our old and dear friends who are kind enough to welcome us back. The house we stay in has poor connectivity, so it’s the opportune time to sign off for a couple of weeks. We’ll be back at the beginning of July, on the other side of the summer solstice. Have a good month.

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Marv Hoffman

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