Targets for Scam Artists: The Elderly Must Be Extra-Careful When Investing

10/3/2012, 2:26 p.m.

To the elderly women whose shopping and household chores he did, he seemed a godsend. And when the former D.C. lawyer offered to take over their finances for them, they were more than happy to hand him their checkbooks.

That's when he stole nearly $400,000 from them. When they asked about their accounts, he would lie to them or transfer money from another victim's account into theirs. At his trial, he got almost five years in jail and had to pay back $385,000.

The lesson here?

As America grows older, the elderly are increasingly the victims of fraud. If you're retired or getting there, here are a few tips on how to avoid the sharks out there:

First, don't be a courtesy victim. You may have been taught to be courteous on the telephone, but you are under absolutely no obligation to stay on the phone with someone who offers you an investment. Hang up.

Second, when someone's pressuring you to make a financial decision "right now, because it's only available for a limited time," get out of there fast. It's bad news.

Third, beware of people like the lawyer above who offers to take all those tedious financial chores off your hands. Always stay in charge of your money. There is simply too much at risk.

Fourth, many con artists look and sound professional and full of integrity - until they make off with your life savings. Always remember: The way they look or sound has nothing to do with the soundness of what they're trying to sell you.

Fifth, swindlers like to prey on older people's fear of outliving their savings or losing it all in a crash. When somebody pushes those buttons, a common tactic for swindlers, don't respond. Never make a decision in fear or when you're agitated, especially one as important as investing your money.

Sixth, some older women are particularly inexperienced at handling money because their husbands always dealt with finances. Especially if you've received an insurance payout after your husband died, you're a target. Get some good advice even before you're approached; try an organization like the AARP's Women's Financial Information Program.

Seventh, always pay attention to your financial statements. If you're not getting one, demand one. Do the amounts agree with your records? Ask questions. Be tough. It's not always easy or pleasant, but it's your money - do what you have to in order to protect it.

Eighth, if you can't get your money back when you want it or when it was promised, you're in trouble. It's time to come see us here at the District's Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking for help. We may not be able to get all your money back, but we'll certainly try.

Ninth, don't let embarrassment keep you from going to the authorities. You're not the first person to run afoul of a con. You won't be the last. Organizations like the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking wouldn't exist if all the con men had been arrested. It's your money: Fight to get it back.