Marti DeLiema has been researching financial fraud among older Americans since her PhD work at USC in 2010. “Baby boomers hold the majority of wealth in the country,” she said in a phone conversation recently, “and that can paint a target on their back as they age.” Most recently with Stanford’s Center on Longevity, DeLiema will bring her knowledge to a free talk at the University Club on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Scams came in all varieties, DeLiema said, from investment frauds to lottery or loan-advance schemes. Some scammers target people with money to invest, often using personal charm and confidence to pitch an idea, and then drawing a person in by acting as if time were running out on the offer. Others find older people at home through the mail or telephone, and work on vulnerabilities, often through fear for a relative’s safety (send $1,000 to bail your grandson out of jail) or by dangling a promise of greater riches if they send money now.
People make the best targets, DeLiema said, during moments of emotional arousal or times of transition. For instance, most of us wouldn’t give a stranger $20 — unless we were stuck by the side of the road and the stranger offered to go get gas. You give them a twenty-dollar bill, and you never see them again or your money or the gas, she said. Likewise, an older person who moves to a retirement community could be “really vulnerable,” DeLiema said. “They don’t have their usual network of trusted relationships and providers. They could be susceptible to the contractor who says, ‘Hey, I’m doing your neighbor’s roof; I should do yours, too.'”
On the positive side, most financial institutions are training their employees to watch for funds being wired repeatedly to West Africa, for instance, DeLiema said. And robo-dialers can be caught, or at least watched for, by federal officials when people report the scam, she added. “Reports tells federal agencies where to put resources,” she said, and also to seek international cooperation among law enforcement agencies.
DeLiema, who is a San Marcos High School grad and will soon be joining the faculty at the University of Minnesota, gives her presentation on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the University Club (1332 Santa Barbara St.), part of the Empowered Aging Speakers Series. “Very few people plan for future financial needs when they aren’t able to manage them,” DeLiema said in parting. “They don’t ask themselves, ‘Who do I trust to assist me?’ Very few people, except the very wealthy, have the right support in place, and that exposes them to opportunists.” She’ll discuss that, legal tools, family exploitation, and more on July 9.