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Senior Correspondent

We live in a world where fraud and scams are an everyday occurrence. We recently read that Target had 40 million credit and debit card files stolen, then  70 million and we sigh, shake our collective head, figure that's the way it is, and don't give it much more thought since these things are regular occurrences.

A recent article was forwarded to me from the Wall Street Journal. It was an eye-opener. The headline says that one in every five Americans 65 and older has been the victim of a financial scam. Although I can't vouch for the accuracy of the survey, I am sure the percentage of older citizens who have been scammed is shockingly high.

Studies have determined that only about 10% of such crimes are reported, sometimes due to embarrassment, sometimes even being unaware fraud has been committed. Federal authorities usually won't become involved unless the loss is at least $100,000. State or local authorities are overwhelmed and may not have the manpower or resources to help. In addition to the financial disaster scams can cause, there is often an emotional or mental cost, too, as the money and resulting independence slips away.

The National Council on Aging has prepared a list of the 10 scams most often targeted toward seniors:

1. Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud
2. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
3. Funeral & Cemetery Scams.
4. Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
5. Telemarketing.
6. Internet Fraud
7. Investment Schemes
8. Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams
9. Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams
10. The Grandparent "I need money" Scam

It is important to be aware of these scams, not only to protect ourselves, but also older relatives who might be in even greater danger. Dementia or memory loss, loneliness, a misplaced desire to be helpful when responding to a phone call requesting information, or a simple unawareness of the presence of so many unscrupulous people leaves seniors vulnerable. The loss of a home, the devastation of financial reserves needed to live, the harassing phone calls or mail — scams and fraud have serious and long lasting effects.

A few years before his death my father-in-law fell for all sorts of foreign lottery scams and unending magazine subscriptions in the hopes of winning a big prize. It wasn't until he went to a nursing home and we could go through his papers that we discovered what had been happening. Luckily, the amount of money lost was probably not much more than $1,000. It could have been much worse. But, we were completely unaware of this "problem."

That experience has prompted me to watch my dad's mail and checking account much more closely. Even though he is naturally suspect of the motives of those he doesn't know, he lives alone and is easily confused. I can't assume he will dodge every attempt to separate him from his money.

It is a shame I even have to  write this post. Dishonesty and preying on the most vulnerable members of our society have become full time employment for too many. We must do are best to make their efforts unproductive.

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