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Solicitors target the elderly

December 28, 2012 12:10 am

IT IS UTTERLY amazing how some nonprofit groups prey on the elderly.

My mother-in-law lived with me for almost a year, and during that time, her mail came here.

My heavens! Every day there was a letter--sometimes two or three--from some nonprofit group soliciting money: food banks, wounded veterans groups, advocates for the blind and solicitations for money to aid research for every disease known to man.

Over the course of a month, there were stacks of letters--I kept them all after she opened them.

The solicitations contained small gifts to entice the recipients to give big bucks. Some even contained money to prime the pump--dollar bills, nickels and pennies that were clearly visible through the plastic.

The idea, of course, was that if this elderly woman got a dollar she would maybe send back $100 or more.

A group based in Wisconsin solicited money for some police chiefs association. The next day there came a solicitation for some fireman's group. Both came from the same address and were printed on the same paper.

I shudder to think how much my 85-year-old mother-in-law, whose mind began to fail about a year before she moved out of her home, sent these people.

I wonder how many older people in the same mental condition send just as much. It must be a gravy train of money.

My mother-in-law's change of address was given only to those who supplied services, such as the phone company, the electric company and her credit-card company.

How this new address--the letters were not forwarded--got in the hands of these nonprofit groups, I do not know. But they got there.

Worse than that, my mother-in-law started getting telephone solicitations at my house. These were not random calls; the solicitors asked specifically for her. How did they get her new number?

One day when she was trying to write out a check to someone who had called, her daughter stopped her.

"But I told the woman I would send her money," my mother-in-law said. "She may sue me if I don't."

How many older people in various stages of dementia think the same thing? How much money do they send to groups that may or may not be legitimate? How much to charities where maybe only 10 percent goes to the actual cause?

Old people have always been vulnerable. After my mother died, we discovered that she had been sending money to some TV preacher for years.

Three decades ago, an older man who lived a few miles down the road left his house to a TV preacher out in the Midwest. I suppose he felt he was buying his way into heaven.

His brother and sister-in-law, who had moved in and cared for him for five or six years, faced getting put out in the street--until they challenged the will and won.

I knew that some nonprofit groups begged older people for money, but I had no idea how prevalent this practice was until my mother-in-law moved into my house.

Maybe some of these charities are worthwhile, but I have my doubts about many of them.

Funny thing: They never send me dollar bills to try to entice me into sending them a big check. But if I ever get old, I bet they will.

If you have older relatives whose minds are beginning to go, you might want to keep an eye on what they're sending to solicitors. It could be more than you ever imagined.

And don't think the begging will end when the older person moves. The solicitors will follow an easy mark to his grave--as the TV preacher did with the fellow down the road.

Donnie Johnston:

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