Morris Krow is 85, his wife Sarah is 83 -- what happened to them might serve as a warning to other seniors.
"I was interested in a living trust. I have four children. I wanted them to be protected as far as probates and things like that," said Morris Krow.
Love for their family led the couple to attend what was billed as a free lunch seminar with information on living trusts. A salesman talked them into buying an insurance annuity as well.
"He had a long - to go through that thing you'd have to have a legal mind," said Morris Krow.
What the Krows failed to understand were policy terms denying them access to their money without any charge until they were well into their 90's.
"It was one big mistake," said Morris Krow.
"We've got a great growth industry for the scally wags. The criminals who are trying to victimize seniors," said Tom Banzhof, Seniors Against Investment Fraud.
Tom Banzhof spent nearly 40 years in the investment industry before retiring. Now he volunteers as a member of SAIF - Seniors Against Investment Fraud, an organization sponsored by the State Department of Corporations.
Banzhoff uses his knowledge of the legitimate business world, to educate others about the schemes, scams, and cons taking place over the phone, via the internet, through the mail or in person.
"These people are pros, they are asking about how's the grandkids. Next thing you know, they have an appointment to come out to the house -- once that happens it's all gone, it's over," said Banzhof.
He says fear often drives seniors to make foolish decisions.
"They are afraid of running out of money before they run out of breath," said Banzhof.
California is especially fertile ground for these financial predators because we have more people 65 and older than any other state -- 3.6 million according to the 2000 census. Older people are attractive targets because they often have retirement nest eggs, own their homes, and have good credit.
A self described con artist explains himself on a tape produced by AARP:
"Once I got a hold of a victim, I would never let go. Even when they told me they were out of money. I would never let go. Go borrow the money," said a con artist.
Helen Karr ran a chain of beauty salons in department stores nationwide. She heard story after story of elderly customers being conned.
"I kept thinking somebody should do something about this -- someone should do something about this," said Helen Karr .
So she did. In her 60's Karr decided to go to law school. Now 73-years-old she works in the San Francisco District Attorneys Office, specializing in elder abuse.
She also volunteers with SAIF -- trying to protect her peers.
"When its seniors talking to seniors they listen to us because we're one of them," said Helen Karr.
Karr and the other SAIF volunteers tell seniors:
- Be skeptical
- Don't rush into signing documents
- Don't give out personal information
- Don't send money to receive "winning" lotteries or sweepstakes
- Consult with someone you trust.
"It was very, very stressful. I was quite worried about him, I didn't know what to do," said Sarah Krow.
The Krows eventually managed to get their money back and have joined other seniors in a class action lawsuit against the company and the man who sold them the annuity. They hope their story is a cautionary tale.
"All I'm hoping for is seniors like myself are protected," said Morris Krow.
And that's the mission of the SAIF volunteers.
"We're just out there preaching the gospel," said Banzhof
If you would like more information:
Below is the contact information for RSVP.
RSVP is the designated agent for the Department of Corporations in three Bay Area counties.
RSVP San Francisco: (415) 731-3335
RSVP Alameda County: (415) 510-452-0868
RSVP San Mateo: (650) 696-3633