Pondering over coffee: Protecting our elderly family members and friends from scammers....

Pondering over coffee:  Protecting our elderly family members and friends from scammers....

My father-in-law is pretty healthy, has a sound mind and lives alone. He does quite well for himself but he is of a a generation where honesty was expected, phone calls were anticipated events, and if someone had a 'business' it meant they were legit. 

You trusted people.

This morning I thought I'd just chat about this over coffee as I read an article in the news about a company (Leading Health Source) scammed one woman from Iowa for $44,000 worth of pills, and how the state of Iowa has banned this company from doing business there.  Of course I thought of my father-in-law.  It's possible he's been scammed a couple times that we know about and probably scammed a few times that we don't know about; as many elderly are embarrassed to admit it to anyone.  He has complete control over own finances and is of sound mind... just gullible due to his personality and his generation's belief in the honesty of people.

I know my father-in-law was 'scammed' by a fast talking local guy in his hometown about 30 years ago...  when he wasn't considered 'elderly' and should have been smart enough to send the guy packing.  But, personality comes into play here.  He was taken for $10,000 in an 'investment' scheme for a new product the guy convinced him was going to be the next big thing.

He was talked into some ridiculous purchases over the next 15-20 years and did most of his 'shopping' from the back of catalogs and obscure magazines.  Instead of running down to the local hardware store to purchase a new riding lawn mower, he would order a $6,000 model from some ad in the back of one of the many magazines or catalogs (with names unrecognizable to the average person) that were constantly coming to  his home. His clothing was ordered from a catalog as well - but none that I had ever heard of.  He ordered all his clothes from them for 15 years and proudly told us he was such a good customer of theirs that they sent him a 'free watch' with his last order.  His computer was bought from an individual doing business in his home basement in a small town about 10 miles away and paid $900 for what would have been about $350 at the local Best Buy.  His living room curtains were made by a local woman for $1000 when he could have bought the same thing from JC Penney for $100.

He also sent a check for $1,000 to an ad in the back of his AARP magazine but finally asked me to check into it for him as it had been a year and he had never heard anything from them or gotten any paperwork after sending in his check. He totally trusted the investment ad because he believed anything advertised in the AARP magazine was legit.

It's just his generation and how he believes you should do business.  Trust people and shop local when you can.  And if there is an ad in a catalog or magazine; then it's got to be true or they wouldn't have accepted the advertising. 

My point is that this is a man in sound heath, mind and body; who is easily taken in and purchases things he doesn't need or pays inflated prices for because he is of a generation of trust. 

But what about our elderly family members who are not only trustworthy, but may be extremely lonely, mentally ill, or confused?  Those that don't understand America is not a country of church going honest businessmen anymore; but we are a global society now with a mixture of cultures that don't hold true to a man is as good as his word?  They may not even understand that someone from half the world away, in Nigeria or Pakistan might actually be calling their HOME PHONE and lying to them to steal from them.  It's a concept so foreign to them or is confusing and they fall for it.

AH I'm rambling over my morning coffee again.  SUFFICE TO SAY this is why we need to be vigilant for our elderly family members and friends.  Talk to them, bring up the topic of sales phone calls, or threatening phone calls from supposed IRS or companies and see if they have been getting calls.  If they are a close family member, it may be possible to have a frank, open discussion about their credit cards and see if you can look over the charges to make sure they are all legit.  Depending on the situation, the personalities involved and whether or not physical or mental illness or disabilities come into play - it may be time to see if having power of attorney is warranted.

In short; we need to protect our loved ones..... 



Karla Sibert was sitting in an Iowa hospital waiting room when she got some shocking news.

"I had her cell phone with me...and that's when I intercepted some phone calls," said Sibert. One was from a salesperson with Leading Health Source, a Las Vegas-based nutritional supplements company, wanting to know how her mother was feeling and if her new pills were helping.

Confused at first, Karla Sibert played along, asking how many pills were ordered and how much they cost.

Skeptical about what she was being told, the younger Sibert, who has power of attorney over her parents' finances, whipped out her mother's credit cards and began calling the card companies to check recent activity. Altogether on three cards, she found $44,000 worth of charges from Leading Health Source for boxes and boxes of unopened pills and drops. The products claimed to address a variety of health issues such as dry eyes or memory loss.

Once her mother was out of surgery, Karla Sibert asked her what happened.

"She said there was just about $500 dollars that she OK'd on a credit card," she said. As a result, her mother "didn't remember doing it and doesn't remember it was of that magnitude."

"Cases of older Americans being taken advantage of by telemarketers, investment professionals or even members of their own family are a common and growing problem that occurs mostly under the radar, advocates say. One recent study found seniors lose an average of $36.4 billion annually from financial abuse."

Having power of attorney over her parents' finances helped Karla Sibert get most of the card charges reversed. She also filed a complaint with the Iowa attorney general's office, who opened an investigation into Leading Health Source.

"They came up with this ridiculous defense that the Siberts were distributors...so that's why they were buying so much," said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

In a 2014 letter to the Iowa attorney general's office, Leading Health Source claimed it was unaware that Karla Sibert had power of attorney over her parent's finances when her mother purchased the products. If the company had been notified, "Mrs. Sibert would have been put on our list of customers not to call," the company said.

Eventually, Leading Health Source returned the remainder of Marlene Sibert's money. An Iowa judge also barred the company from doing business in the state.

Karla Sibert hopes elderly consumers, their children and caregivers will learn from her experience.

"You need to be your parents' advocate," she said. "There's just no question in my mind that people need to stay involved with their parents."