Darcie Guerin, vice president and branch manager of the Raymond James office in Marco Island, Fla., says she works at ground zero of the elder fraud scene. “It’s like Willie Sutton said,” she laughs, “‘Go where the money is!’” Southwest Florida, she explains, is a retirement destination, and with so many elderly folks living there, it attracts every kind of fraud and every kind of scammer.

‘STARTS WITH EDUCATION’

What to do about this? “It starts with education,” she says. “I do an article every week for the local paper about cybercrime, identity theft, etc., and we organize panel discussions on issues like elder scams.”

But the real key, she says, is “getting my clients to call me before they sign or do anything.” She adds, “Most of the time, if a client gets a call that sounds too good to be true, and they say, ‘Give me your number, and I’ll have my financial advisor call you back,’ the caller hangs up!”

The typical scams she finds her older clients getting caught in are things like CDs with teaser rates, free dinners where they get sold unsuitable financial products, and phone calls offering unnecessary home repairs or products promising miracle cures.

COMMON SCAMS

Another common scam lately involves prepaid funerals. Well-dressed people carrying cards that identify them as from “chapels” or “temples” will call on the elderly at home and tell them they need to buy a policy “for your children’s sake” because if they die it will cost their kids $40,000-$100,000 to bury them – far above the usual cost. The scammers also bring glossy brochures featuring overpriced silk-lined coffins made of mahogany and other imported hardwoods. In truth, prepaid funerals can be a smart investment, so long as they’re arranged with legitimate providers.

A financial scam of late has to to with living trusts. Purported lawyers call and tell older people that they need to make up a living trust to “protect their assets” and avoid probate.

But Rebecca King, a partner with Northwest Elder Law Group in Seattle who does a lot of work with advisors and their clients, says this is often not true.

“It depends on the state you live in,” she says. “For example, here in Washington state, our probate system is quick and relatively cheap, so a simple will is usually the best option.” (California, where probate is expensive, can be a different story.)

ON THE FRONT LINE

Advisors can be the frontline of defense against many scams, whether it’s a car dealer overcharging a widowed client for a new vehicle, a lawn-care guy who charges $100 a month for a mowing job that might take five minutes every two weeks, or a contractor charging six times too much to build an additional room on a client’s house.

“It’s amazing how greedy people can become when money’s involved,” says Kelli Young, a financial planner with Mainspring Wealth Advisors in Bellevue, Wa.

But advisors most also keep in mind that the scammers defrauding an elderly client can be a close relative -- even a child.

“That’s why we have a practice here of bringing pies to all our clients on Thanksgiving,” says Guerin. “That gives us an excuse to visit them at home at a time when their whole family is there, so that we get to meet everyone.”

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist.

This story is part of a 30-day series on better serving seniors.