Obituary scammers prey on elderly


Local law enforcement and Amy Nofziger, program leader for Colorado’s AARP ElderWatch, mentioned these scams and approaches by scammers: 

• Scammers are well aware of current events and latch onto the latest news to pry people from their money.

For example, investment scams have been linked to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

• Unemployed people are being targeted by callers who claim they have a job available if the person agrees to a credit check, a process that includes providing a Social Security number.

Some door-to-door salesmen offer to patch a section of asphalt with the extra material they have from working on a nearby project. They get the resident to pay upfront for the job, then disappear without providing the material or work.

Some scammers go door to door claiming to sell security systems, a ploy that allows them to case homes and determine whether the homeowner has a security system.

“We tell people to say that you have a security system and it is working fine,” Nofziger said. “You could also say that you have a son in the business.”

• Some burglars target homes when residents are at a funeral. Fraud-prevention advocates encourage people whose home will be empty while they are attending a funeral to ask a friend or acquaintance to stay at the home during that time.

Who falls victim?

In general, according to Nofziger:

• Wealthy white males fall victim to investment scams.

Lottery scams tend to nab women who consider themselves to be religious.

• Younger people are more apt to have their identities stolen.

Seniors are the most targeted group of all scams.

Some door-to-door scams are seasonal, and scammers tend to work cities off the Interstate 70 corridor.

Reporting scams

Call your local police department or sheriff’s department.

To report financial fraud and for information, call 1-800-222-4444.

• Visit AARP ElderWatch at

• Reporting a suspect immediately could help law enforcement nab suspects before others are victimized.


Never underestimate how low a scammer will sink to wrestle money from a senior citizen.

One of the latest trends has con artists reading obituaries to glean information about surviving family members. The scammers call the surviving spouse and pretend to be a family member urgently in need of cash.

“Because a loved one has just recently passed, they are more vulnerable,” said Amy Nofziger, program leader for Colorado’s AARP ElderWatch. “Obits are now online, and people can find out a lot of information from them. We’re not saying not to include loved ones in obituaries, just step out of the emotional mind-set for a moment.”

The obituary scam is one of the latest attempts to rip off seniors, Nofziger said. One woman Nofziger talked to would have been had by this scam, but the thief chose to pose as a grandson with cognitive disabilities. The woman knew the caller couldn’t have been that grandson, but if the caller had chosen to be another one of her grandchildren, she would have gladly sent along money thinking she was helping a relative out of a jam, Nofziger said.

Scammers tend to target senior citizens for a variety of reasons, Nofziger said.

By nature, seniors are more trusting of others. They tend to have more money than other segments of the population and are more generous with their funds than others, she added.

Seniors tend to be more isolated, are more inclined to read their junk mail and are at home more of the day to answer phone calls. Seniors also get more mail than others, and scammers deliberately collect addresses of older folks.

What’s even more concerning is that only one in six seniors who have been ripped off report the offense, mostly because they are embarrassed, Nofziger said.

“If people aren’t telling us this is happening, how we are supposed to do anything?” she said. “A lot of times, seniors don’t want to tell their children because they’re embarrassed. We don’t want you to sit in your house and be ashamed of it. Get mad. Tell people. Do something about it.”

In an effort to get to seniors before scammers do, ElderWatch, which works with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office’s consumer protection division, also targeted seniors in a telephone calling campaign.

Instead of trying to bilk them for money, volunteers who were mostly seniors themselves, armed their peers with fraud-prevention tips. Volunteers called more than 200,000 seniors nationwide to offer the information.

One piece of advice for the seniors: When a caller claims to be a family member, ask pointed questions that only family members would know.

Also, it’s advised that seniors call back family members on their personal phone numbers, not the numbers given by a random caller. Volunteers advised seniors to never to give out Social Security numbers and bank account numbers.

“I know that seniors are generous, and they want to give,” Nofziger said. “We want them to give, but to give wisely. A lot of people will play on words and rip people off.”


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