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How to spot a mail scam

The Nigerian email scam is so popular it's practically a brand, a punch line to a bad joke. For many senior citizens and vulnerable adults, these scams aren't so light hearted. Sure, it's easy to hit the delete button or throw a fishy looking letter in the trashcan for many, but circumstance and mental capacity can put victims in harm's way from a simple trip to the mailbox.

Senior citizens suffering from dementia are a frequent target and promises of easy wealth and a relaxed retirement have a powerfully persuasive pull. Many senior citizens also feel a pronounced loneliness that enhances vulnerability.

The most common scams through postal mail are lottery, prize or sweepstakes giveaways. They will offer a reward but only after receiving payment.

Fraud warning signs:

  • If a sweepstakes requires a fee or purchase.
  • If it requests personal or banking information.
  • If the agent uses high-pressure sales tactics.
  • If there is no call back number.
  • If the mailing address is a post office box number.
  • If the payment requested (already a reason for suspicion) is to be payable to an acronym or general sounding name.

If a loved one is a victim

It can be near impossible to recover funds lost to such scams. The processed checks are cashed through a third party payment service, then wire transferred to the perpetrator, often overseas. Money is laundered and most scams frequently relocate their base of operations.

To file a complaint and stop new scams is also challenging. Most victims report that responding to a first request opens a floodgate of fraudulent offers. Working with local and state government and the United States Postal Service may open an investigation, but it will be a time consuming process.

In taking care of your vulnerable loved ones, it can be hard to monitor mundane activities like getting the mail. Unfortunately, there are predators who prey on their weaknesses. Observant and trustworthy caretakers are essential for any senior citizen in an assisted living or nursing home and working out a power of attorney arrangement that shares access to financial information can help catch a problem before it becomes devastating.

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