I was really intrigued about how you work with people on scams. You’re the co-director of the Senior Scam Action Associates — devoted to educating seniors, their caregivers, and professionals that work with seniors about how to protect themselves from scams and fraud. He is the co-host of the Scammercast Podcast on the 2GuysTalking Podcast Network. It seems like the scams keep escalating month by month, year by year. Is that a real perception that you have too?
Curtis Bailey: Absolutely, David. They are not going away. The scammers continue to recycle scams that maybe we thought had been taking care of, and were buried, and in the past, but they come back. For instance, the tax scam — now that we are in tax season here in the US — it was a huge problem last year, and we hammered on it and hammered on it education wise, and you know what? It has come back again with a vengeance, and more and more people fall for them. This is a problem that is just not going to go away.
David Brower: Unbelievable. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to get people informed and educated, especially as the baby boomers increase, and that senior scam group, if you will, is just more and more prevalent.
Curtis Bailey: Yeah. It’s an interesting challenge. The baby boomers as a demographic are among the largest group that joins the computer world, if you will, every day. They’re signing on online. They are on social media. So, they’re starting to really take advantage of the technology which is a dual edged sword, right?
David Brower: Right.
Curtis Bailey: Because on the one hand we can do so much good with social media and the Internet. It keeps families that are often scattered about the country or even the world — it keeps them close — but on the flipside of that, you have opportunities for criminals to exploit older folks who tend to be trusting, naïve maybe. I hate to use that word because it has a negative connotation and I don’t mean it that way. Just, they don’t understand that it’s very easy for a scammer to hide behind a computer screen or an anonymous profile and manipulate them.
David Brower: Yeah. I think naïve is a good word when it comes to the computer experience because they are naïve a lot of times about just what … You know, “I just got on here to connect with my granddaughter, and now I’m getting all these people interested in talking to me. Isn’t that great?”
Curtis Bailey: Yeah.
David Brower: Right?
Curtis Bailey: You know, I just the other day had a dear client … My base law practice is in the field of estate planning/elder law, so I work with individuals and families on creating estate plans, wills, and powers of attorney, and things, and I had a dear client whose husband had passed away not too long ago. I was updating her estate plan, and she was telling me that she had just joined Facebook, and she had an old high school friend reach out to her. After a couple of minutes of instant message catching up proceeds to tell her that, “Hey, I just won, you know, $10,000, and all you have to do is go talk to this guy and get registered. I saw your name on the winner’s list.”
Initially, it tinkled a little bell, but she continued on, and she actually made contact with the second individual, and finally when he was asking her for her Social Security number for tax reasons and things, she cut off the contact. Those kinds of things just happen all the time, and, unfortunately, it’s so easy for our older adults in this country to fall victim to it.
David Brower: Boy, no question about it. Good for her to have the red flag come up and say, “Oop, I’m out of here.”
Curtis Bailey: Exactly, and that’s what we try to do. My partner, Art Maines, who is a licensed clinical social worker, and wrote a book called Scammed: Three Steps to Help Your Elder Parents and Yourself based on his experiences helping his stepdad recover from a scam. We know we are not going to solve the problem — the two of us — but what we want to do is at least plant the seed in the older adult’s mind, in their family member’s minds, or in the professionals that work with older adult’s minds that maybe we need to investigate a little further, or maybe we need to stop for a moment before we take action. If we can accomplish that, then we’ve gone a long ways to defeating the scammer.
David Brower: Boy, absolutely right. Good for you. More and more I think — like AARP is an example — I think they’ve given more pages to scams in recent years than they are used to. So, finding publicity outlets — for lack of a better term — like that, that can reach a large number of boomers and seniors is … that’s really important as well, huh?
Curtis Bailey: It is. That’s why I’m so grateful to come onto your show and other media outlets where I can help spread the word to the folks that need it. Often times it’s not directly to the older adult themselves, although my partner and I do a lot of presentations locally to groups of senior citizens or older adults, but often times the people we are really trying to reach are the family members or the professionals because they are the ones who are uniquely positioned, if you will, to maybe see something, and they need to step up and ask the questions. That’s why we are so grateful to be able to spread the word a little further and a little wider than just here in St. Louis.
David Brower: Boy, that makes a lot of sense. If you’re sitting around the dinner table with your mom, dad, stepparents, whatever — and maybe it’s only once a month — but you hear a little red flag that comes up about, “You know, I was talking to this guy.”
Curtis Bailey: Sure.
David Brower: Man, if they can pay attention to those kinds of things that will go a long way in helping folks, won’t it?
Curtis Bailey: Very much so, and it’s a delicate dance don’t get me wrong. As I’ve delved into this subject, into this topic, I’ve found that it’s much more related to emotions, believe it or not, than anything. I can give tips on what to look for and what to stay away from, and emails, and instant message contacts, and things like that, but when you boil it down behind those things it’s all about emotions. The scammers are absolutely masterful at manipulating emotions. Whether it’s fear, or whether it’s the loneliness that so many of our older adult’s face. Those are the things — those emotional cues — are really the things that we want the family members and the professionals to pick up on because that’s where it gets messy sometimes, if you will, is wading into those emotional issues.
David Brower: I remember back in the day I used to train salespeople, and one of the things that we always taught everybody was 80% of every buying decision is based on emotion, so you never ask, “What do you think of that?” You always ask, “How do you feel about that?”
Curtis Bailey: Right. Yeah.
David Brower: Right?
Curtis Bailey: Absolutely.
“David Brower: That’s what these guys and gals — these fraud experts — are really expert at is appealing to those basic emotions really.
Curtis Bailey: Yeah. Very much so. There’s some unique research that has been conducted at Stanford in their center of longevity, and what they found is that if a senior or older adult is agitated, and it can be agitated in a positive way meaning they get excited about something or in a negative way — they get very angry about something — either way they are susceptible to being manipulated. That’s really what the scammers hone in on is getting their contact or their prey, if you will — the victim – agitated. Whether it’s a positive way or negative way, and, yeah, but the scammers do is they take their time and figuring out what the button is, and once they find that button then they push on it repeatedly.
David Brower: Yeah. If you’re a senior alone, and more often than not whether they admit it or not they are craving conversation, and so those folks are able to appeal to that, aren’t they?
Curtis Bailey: Oh, you bet. It’s amazing how consistently we hear from people who have been victims or close to being victims how nice, how charming these people are, usually on the phone, asking them about family members, and so on and so forth. You’re right. It absolutely is preying on that seniors’ loneliness, and they’re master at it. We had a lady here in the St. Louis area that lost over $250,000 to scammers.
David Brower: Oh my gosh.
Curtis Bailey: I mean, it was all of her retirement funds. Art Maines’ stepdad, who fell victim to a phony sweepstakes scam, lost almost $70,000.
David Brower: Wow.
Curtis Bailey: People stop, and it’s easy for us to look at it and say, “How in the world could anybody fall for that to that level and that extent?” All I say back is, “These folks are master manipulators, and once they set the hook it’s very easy to follow along, and before you know it you have potentially lost your entire retirement savings.”
David Brower: Well, you don’t know until you’re done, and it sure easy for us on the outside to judge because we haven’t walked in their shoes even remotely.
Curtis Bailey: That’s very true, in one strong message we try to send is, “Look, victims are not stupid people. They are victims of criminals. They’ve been manipulated. They need help.” Often times, though, they are going to push back. They’re going to deny it. That’s a huge hurdle that the family members or professionals have to get over is a fact that the victim just doesn’t believe they’ve been scammed. They truly believe that that sweepstakes award is coming, or that car is coming, or whatever the quote-unquote “prize” is.
David Brower: The other thing I would think is sometimes after-the-fact they realize they’ve been scammed, and they feel so guilty about it they are not going to admit it anyway.
Curtis Bailey: Yeah. The shame is intense. It really is. There have been some attempts to estimate how much money a year is lost to scammers, and the results kind of vary all across the board. There’s a study out there that suggests as much is $36 billion a year is lost to criminals. All I can say is there are two conclusions that we can absolutely draw. That is, number one, a lot of people are victimized to the tune of a lot of money. I don’t know how much but it’s a lot. Okay?
David Brower: Right.
Curtis Bailey: The second conclusion that you can draw is that it is an underreported event because of shame, and that’s one reason why we do want to talk to the older adults, is we want them to overcome that feeling of shame and embarrassment and report it, number one, and ask for help. There’s always a fear, I think, as we get older that we are going to somehow lose control, and that people are going to swoop in and take away our rights to do things, and we need to get older adults over that hurdle, if you will, so that family members and professionals can help them.
David Brower: What kind of legal tools did a caregiver use, as an example, to help seniors recover from or even prevent scams?
Curtis Bailey: Well, first and foremost, I’m sure every state recognizes a document called the power of attorney. The way a power of attorney works is this: the older adult signs a document in advance appointing an agent — usually, it’s a family member — to be able to help them with financial matters and decisions if they lose the ability to do so themselves. This is a key document that everybody should have in their estate planning, but it has a great relevance in helping people prevent or recover from fraud or scams because if the older adult does lose that ability then a child or a caregiver can come in right away and at least stop the bleeding, and can lock down the accounts, if you will, and things of that nature.
It’s a far easier route if you have a power of attorney in place as opposed to having to go to court and being appointed a guardian which is a court process and takes longer and is much more expensive. So, first and foremost, it’s have a power of attorney in place. Have frank, in-depth conversations with the older adults in your life about these kinds of things, and have a plan in place on how you’re going to deal with it from day one if it ever does become a problem.
David Brower: I would think just having a conversation just about a power of attorney alone and saying, “Hey, we want to do this too … You know, in case something happens. In case you need our help down the road. Blah, blah, blah.” Have these real kinds of comfortable, easy reasons for them to agree to it and then, “Oh, by the way, you know, there’s a lot of scams out there, and so I want you to feel comfortable in letting me know if you get phone calls, or emails, or things like that that you’re not 100% sure about because this power of attorney will help me to protect you.”
Curtis Bailey: Absolutely. I mean, you have encapsulated it perfectly, David. Have those kinds of conversations in advance because if you don’t what happens is when the event occurs everybody’s emotions are high. The caregiver’s emotions are high. The older adult’s emotions are high. They’re going to become defensive probably, and often times the caregiver’s going to have to be very forceful, and all of a sudden, it’s an ugly situation between the caregiver and the older adult when it shouldn’t be. Caregivers have to walk a fine line between being assertive and forceful in order to lock down those finances and stop the scammer or the fraud versus making sure you’re honoring the older adult and being supportive as well. That’s tough.
David Brower: Oh, man, that is tough for sure, and there’s a risk of just ruining a relationship.
Curtis Bailey: Yeah. Unfortunately, we see that happen. There is no easy way to avoid that, but all I can say is in the moment when the scam or fraud is discovered and if it’s still ongoing, the caregiver has to be assertive in stopping it at least so that we can protect the finances as much as possible.
David Brower: Absolutely. Well, great conversation. This has really gone by quickly, Curtis, and I really appreciate it. How can folks get a hold of you? I know you are a co-host of the Scammercast Podcast on the 2GuysTalking Podcast Network. I assume that’s available through iTunes and other type venues, right?
Curtis Bailey: It is, David. Yeah. We are on iTunes, and Stitcher, and Google Play. You can find us on Facebook under Scammercast. You can find me personally on LinkedIn, or Facebook, or also on Twitter. My Twitter handle is BaileyLaw1. We try to provide education and assistance as much as we can. As a lawyer, I’m licensed in Missouri and Illinois, so I can certainly help from a legal standpoint specifically on those two states, and for folks that contact me that don’t live in Missouri or Illinois I’m usually able to find them help of a legal nature where they live.
David Brower: You’ve got a blog that I would assume has a lot of this information in it that people should reach out to, right?
Curtis Bailey: Absolutely. I do. We post information there. We post information in our various podcast episodes, so we encourage people to take advantage of it.
David Brower: Terrific. The website is scammercast.com, and you can email Curtis at email@example.com. Check them out on Facebook, LinkedIn, and their blog. Fascinating, fascinating stuff, and I hope we just touch one senior. It’ll make the show worthwhile, right?
Curtis Bailey: Absolutely. David, thank you so much for the opportunity to be with you.
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