Fraud Offering Fake Prizes Targeted the Elderly

It’s especially sad when fraudsters target the most vulnerable in society. Among them, the elderly are frequently victimized, in some cases losing their retirement savings or pensions to thieves who gain their trust and bilk them of thousands of dollars.

One of the more recent schemes to come to light promised prizes to its victims in an international mail scam. Letters sent to mostly elderly targets urged them to pay a fee after which, the letters claimed, the victim would receive a valuable prize. As detailed in a DutchNews article, the prizes were nonexistent, and the money went straight into the pockets of fraudsters:

Police and finance ministry officials have raided six companies at 10 locations throughout the Netherlands in connection with an international investigation into a letter scam based on non-existent prizes.

The Dutch firms manage some 300 post office boxes which were used by the fraudsters to con people into sending them money, the public prosecution department said in a statement. The scam netted the gang millions of euros, the department said.

Fraud against seniors is a serious problem. The FBI provides information on its website explaining why this segment of the population is at risk. The reasons include the following:

  • Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
  • People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
  • Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
  • When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
  • Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.

In the Dutch mailing fraud case, it’s heartening to see that investigators appear to have shut down such a widespread con job. No arrests have yet been made, but we can hope and expect that they will happen soon. As noted in a statement from the U.S. Justice Department:

“Schemes targeting elderly victims are increasingly international in scope, but geographic distance will not prevent us from seeking justice and holding bad actors accountable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Dutch authorities have done a great service to U.S. residents and elderly victims worldwide by addressing fraud facilitated within their borders.  The Justice Department will continue to work with our international law enforcement partners to put a stop to fraud schemes that exploit vulnerable Americans.”

Here’s hoping that they are successful in that endeavor – not just for vulnerable Americans, but for the sake of vulnerable seniors all over the world.