Two tables away, a portly man stole the ambiance. With oiled hair and a golf shirt as shiny as his gold watch, this fellow had a captive audience of two seniors – presumably a husband and wife enjoying the years they had left to dine at such restaurants.
For a while, Frank and I kept to ourselves, talking about new business plans and the upcoming college football season. But every time we stopped to take a bite of food, we couldn’t help but hear the obvious salesman dishing another load of garbage toward the seniors at his table.
“I’m not sure if you know this,” he said as he pointed his knife at the elderly man, “but since 1987, the stock market has been up.”
I don’t joke when it comes to the financial markets. That’s exactly what he said. Then another doozy spilled out of his salsa.
“If you put your money with me, I’ll cover any losses you have up to 10 percent of 30 percent,” he assured them. “We’ll do that for the first three months.”
Frank, my business partner, and I looked at each other in disbelief. Were these seniors really buying the burritos this fellow was selling?
Neither of us remembers the entire conversation, but the last line I recall from the slick dealer’s mouth stuck with me: “Listen, we all know the market is up right now, but it’s not going to last,” he said. “I’ll make sure you are protected when it gets bad.”
In all fairness, the guy was probably right about the first line: There will be a slip in the markets at some point because that’s what markets do. Then again, this guy’s acumen on finances probably ranked somewhere close to the cook searing the meat in the back.
At one point, Frank said he either needed to leave, or he wouldn’t be able to resist challenging the salesman on whatever plan he had for these seniors. Frank knows how to manage money, and he’s done well with it over the past 20 years.
I’m fairly certain we did the wrong thing, because we should have intervened. But we didn’t know the guy, didn’t know the couple at the table, and we weren’t sure it was our place to butt into an area that isn’t our field of expertise.
What I can’t forget are the two seniors listening to this peddler. The lady sat with the most perplexed look on her face, walking cane resting on her leg and not a bite of food ever placed in her mouth. We could only see the back of her husband’s head, but I never once saw him lift a fork, and his head remained cocked at a 7-degree angle for almost 30 minutes straight.
I haven’t forgotten what I watched happen, because I know how vulnerable seniors are to the myriad scams seeking to prey on whatever wealth they’ve accumulated.
My dear mother (and I know she’ll read this) was incredibly worried last month because my younger brother got a call from the IRS, informing him that an arrest warrant had been issued because he failed to pay some taxes. If you haven’t been privy to that scam, trust me, it’s coming.
The point is: Seniors are more vulnerable – even seniors “cognitively intact” – to these sorts of scams than any other group of people.
In 2015, True Link Financial was cited repeatedly for a study determining that seniors were scammed, in one year, for more than $36 billion. And that was three years ago. In the same year, Facebook only did $18 billion in revenue, to offer some comparison.
Think about that, though. The business of scamming the elderly is so prevalent that it has become one of the leading industries in this country.
How does it happen? The National Council on Aging has 10 defined areas that make up for the most problems.
Medicare and health insurance tops the list. People call posing as Medicare representatives, and seniors hand over all their personal information. Then, the scammers provide a bill to Medicare and pocket the money. Another similar issue is seniors going online to buy cheaper prescription drugs and ending up with sugar pills that help nothing.
Funeral scams are just as bad: Con artists read obituaries, show up at the funeral parlor, and quietly tell other seniors that the deceased owed a bunch of money. You can avoid placing the burden on your family by signing up for the trickster’s policy, which won’t buy you a cardboard box or spoonful of dirt.
There are anti-aging products, phone scams, internet fraud, reverse mortgages, lotteries, family members and, you guessed it, investment schemes that all take money from seniors.
I am not an expert on senior-related issues, but I know a bunch of people who are. If you’re a senior in this area of Houston, or if you’re a son or daughter who helps care for seniors, I’d like to personally invite you to The Leader’s 6th annual Senior Expo presented by Memorial Hermann Greater Heights on Sept. 19. Just like every other year, we’re holding the event at the SPJST Lodge on Beall Street in the Heights, and we’re serving up free breakfast and lunch.
This event, as you might guess, is one of the most enjoyable things we do at The Leader. We have a room full of seniors who absolutely enjoy the free event, but we also think the Expo provides a service that offers a level of great trust. Whether it’s financial advisors, attorneys, Realtors or car mechanics, our Expo brings together a room full of experts who can help you with almost any question a senior (or caregiver) might have.
If you’d like to attend, just call our office and register at (713) 686-8494. We promise there won’t be any guys sticking dull knives in your face.