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Nigerian Princes, Stranger Danger, Ed McMahon and the Elderly


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.

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    We went to Solkoff Legal for advice on elder law. We needed to know what we could do, what we couldn't do, what we should do and what we shouldn't do. They were great.

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    We have worked with Scott, Heather and the awesome team at Solkoff Legal for many years and have been pleased with their services. We often need a resource who is knowledgeable in elder law and special needs planning in the Delray area and we are confident when recommending this dynamic team. They are responsive, compassionate and all-around good people. I would recommend this group to anyone needing estate planning, elder law or special needs planning for their family.

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    When it comes to elder law, trust and estate planning, and medicaid asset protection, there is no name that is better known throughout Florida than SOLKOFF.  I have used Solkoff Legal for a long time, as has members of my family and clients whom I have referred. Attorney Scott Solkoff and his staff are true experts in this field, are consummate professionals, and have the client's best interests at heart. In fact, I believe Solkoff has received many awards not only for his humanitarian work in his community, but from his peers for his professional excellence.  I would recommend Solkoff to anyone looking for the very best...A+++!

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    Scott Solkoff is a man of principles and integrity. Always willing to share his vast knowledge on Elder Law and is up to date on the changes of the law. I am happy to call him my Elder Law professor and mentor. You simply can't go wrong with Solkoff Law.

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    Top elder law attorney. Both personally and professionally, I have utilized Solkoff Law for over 10 years. Personally, he has helped my dad before he passed at 101. His expertise and knowledge helped dad pass in a beautiful assisted living facility because of his work in family asset protection. He has prepare custom documents for me and my wife who is disabled. Professionally, he has helped dozens of my clients in long term care planning and for caring for a child of special needs. I have shared the podium with Scott and have been in meetings with his clients and mine. He is one of the most skilled attorneys that I have ever worked with in 30 years of wealth management practice. His staff is first rate and always responsive to my calls or those of clients. I have gone on end of life hospital visits with him to complete planning to help the family when their loved one is about to pass. Solkoff Legal is first class, knowledgeable, caring and accessible They are the team you want on your side with your planning and problems.


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