By Brenda Flanagan
Ask the crowd at Garfield’s Senior Center and most will tell you they remember a suspicious sales pitch, or a smarmy phone call, similar to this one!
“Hurry up! Your pizza’s outside. You gave me the wrong credit card number. Give me the right number! So I said, ‘I never ordered a pizza!'” said Clifton resident Elizabeth Unger.
Unger hung up on that scammer, but experts at today’s safe investing seminar say, con men often target seniors because they have assets — like a home, a savings account or a pension. And, sadly, they’re particularly vulnerable.
“Due to social isolation and distance from family, caregivers and other support networks. Meanwhile the US senior population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.” said Laura Posner.
Especially in New Jersey, says Posner, who heads the state’s Bureau of Securities. She notes that while people over age 60 account for only 20 percent of New Jersey’s population, they comprise almost a third of fraud victims here. One of Jersey’s biggest recent senior fraud cases involved convicted money launderer Michael Kwasnik Posner says the Attorney General filed a civil lawsuit against him for allegedly masterminding an $8 million swindle — selling more than 70 elderly victims bogus promissory notes, with guarantees.
“That these products would have large rates of return. He also promised they were safe and secure. And when you’re an investor, and particularly a senior investor, you hear, ‘Safe and secure’ and ‘guaranteed money’ it seems like it’s a little too good to be true,” said Posner.
But, they bought it. A panel of state and federal fraud busters joined forces to help warn seniors about how financial predators operate.
“Just remember what you’ve heard your whole life: There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” said C. Brian McGuire, Associate State Director for Advocacy for AARP New Jersey.
Scammers invite you for free meals, and then make a sales pitch. After natural disasters, they call for charitable contributions and keep them. To gain your trust, they can be a veteran, or even a church member.
“I’ve got a deal for you and we’re only making it available for people of the church and you’ll be able to get 20 percent a year, guaranteed,” said McGuire.
“If someone is selling you an investment and doesn’t write it down, that’s not just a red flag of fraud. It’s fraud! There’s no legitimate investment that would not involve contracts,” said M. Owen Donley III, Chief Councel for the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Big red flags include high pressure sales tactics, demands for immediate payment and lack of proper credentials. To counter fraud: check whether agents and their products are properly registered with the state, get everything in writing and then get it reviewed by a trusted expert before you sign any contract.
Sometimes victims can get some of their money back. For example, New Jersey’s got a special fund that reimburses the victims of fraudster lawyers, but that’s pretty rare. Experts say for the most part, if a fraudster gets your money, it’s gone for good.