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Scott Solko(*

Many envision retirement as a time of peace and relaxation. Sadly, this well-deserved time can be marred by a growing threat: elder exploitation. Elderly individuals, often trusting and eager for companionship, can become easy targets for scammers and unscrupulous individuals.

The National Council on Aging estimates that up to five million older Americans experience elder abuse each year, with financial exploitation being the most common form. A staggering $36.5 billion is lost annually by elderly victims of financial abuse.

This not only affects the elderly, many of whom live on fixed income, but also the national economy.

Deceptive Schemes:

Elderly individuals are frequently targeted by sophisticated scams. The infamous “Nigerian prince” email scheme, promising vast sums of money in exchange for upfront fees, preys on the desire for financial security and companionship. These scams can be relentless, with fraudsters employing manipulative tactics to build trust and pressure their victims.

Closer to Home:

Exploitation isn’t limited to faceless online interactions. Home repair scams are another common threat. Unscrupulous contractors may pressure seniors into unnecessary repairs, often charging exorbitant fees for shoddy work. These scams can leave victims feeling violated and financially drained.

Exploitation by Corporations:

In 1998, I brought a national class action lawsuit against Publishers Clearinghouse, American Family Publishers and even Ed MacMahon, a spokesperson for these

sweepstakes magazine marketers. I had met with many elderly people who spent a lot of money they did not have on magazine subscriptions so that they could win a contest. I believed these large corporations (Time-Life among them) were purposefully targeting the elderly. The case was big news with a big eight-figure settlement and directions from the Court to change their tactics. The point is that even the largest and most trusted companies in America might target vulnerable seniors.


When a person learns that they have been scammed, the first reaction is often one of denial. “This cannot be true.” “I am sure this is legitimate.” The second reaction is often one of shame. The person, really regardless of age, feels very embarrassed. Because they feel so embarrassed, they might try to cover up their behavior. Few will reach out for help because of their shame.

Dementia and Exploitation:

When a scammer gets hold of someone with cognitive impairment, one can imagine them doing a little dance and high-fiving their scam-mates. People with dementia are easy fodder for all kinds of exploitation. Indeed, they may even forget that they were scammed by the same routine just months before.

Warning Signs:

Family and caregivers are the first line of defense. Here are some signs that an elder may be a target:

  • Unexplained financial transactions or missing
  • Social isolation, a hesitancy to discuss
  • Sudden changes in legal documents such as a will, trust, or power of
  • The presence and pressure from unfamiliar

Taking Action:

If you suspect an elder is being exploited, act quickly.

  • Report It: Contact your local Adult Protective Services agency or law enforcement. In Florida, call 800-96-ABUSE.
  • Educate: Talk openly with your loved one about financial scams and red
  • Empower: Encourage them to seek help before making financial
  • Secure Assets: Consider implementing trusted oversight of Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorneys can set up protections without the elder losing their dignity and say-so.
  • Empathy: Remember that the person may already feel terrible, whether they admit it or Chastising them will not help the situation and may cause the victim to make sure that nobody finds out the next time it happens.

Staying Safe:

By working together, we can create a safer environment for our seniors. Here are some additional tips:

  • Shred personal documents: This reduces the risk of identity
  • Beware of unsolicited calls and emails: Never give out personal information or financial details.
  • Get second opinions: Before signing any contracts, especially for home repairs, seek advice from a trusted person unconnected to the This could be a professional like a lawyer but sometimes it is just another set of trusted eyes that is needed.
  • Stay connected: Encourage social Isolation makes seniors more vulnerable.

By raising awareness and taking preventive measures, we can safeguard our elders and ensure their golden years shine more brightly.


Scott Solkoff is a Board-Certified Specialist in Elder Law and author, with his late father, of the leading textbook on the subject for lawyers. He has served as President of the Academy of Florida

Elder Law Attorneys, Chair of The Florida Bar’s Elder Law Section and a Board Member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and other select organizations assisting the elderly and people with disabilities. He has been appointed by various of Florida’s Governors, Attorney Generals, and Senate Presidents to various government panels. Scott is also co-founder of Elder Law College, a national educational association for lawyers. Scott practices law in Palm Beach County, Florida.