Is the Walk-in Tub a Scam?

By Alan Knight

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Financial scams targeting senior citizens have become so prevalent that they're now considered as being one of the top crimes of the 21st century. 

There are several reasons why the criminally minded go after the elderly.  One reason is the scammers imagine that many seniors have a vast amount of money just sitting in the bank, waiting for the picking.  In reality, most seniors are living on a fixed income with little margin for error. Secondly, seniors are often times viewed as weak, both physically and mentally.  Scammers think they can easily outwit the elderly to talk them out of their money. 

Making matters worse, financial scams also often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute, so they're considered a “low-risk” crime.  However, they're devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position with little time or hope to recoup their losses.  It's not just wealthy seniors who are targeted.  Low income older adults are also at risk of financial abuse.  Sadly, it's not always crooked strangers who perpetrate these crimes.  Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person's own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.

Let's look at several common scams that target seniors: 

Telemarketing Scams


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The first is the “Pigeon Drop.”  The con artist tells the individual that he or she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from their bank account.  Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer or banker.  

Another telemarketing scam is the “Fake Accident Ploy.”  The con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person's child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money immediately. 

Today, “Charity Scams” are really big.  Money is solicited for fake charities, usually after a reported and solicited for following a major natural disaster.

Internet Fraud


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While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ubiquitous on the web and email programs. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user's computer to scammers.  Their unfamiliarity with the less-visible aspects of browsing the web (employing several layers of firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example) makes seniors especially susceptible to such traps.

Consider the “email/phishing” scam.  A senior receives email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information.  Or, a senior receives bogus emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund.

 Investment Schemes


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Because many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they finish working, a number of investment schemes have been targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years. From pyramid schemes such as Bernie Madoff's (which counted a number of senior citizens among its victims) to fables of a Nigerian prince looking for a partner to claim inheritance money, to complex financial products that many economists don't even understand, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of the elderly.

Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scam


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Scammers like to take advantage of many people above the age of 60 who own their own homes (with no mortgage), a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value of a certain scam.  A particularly elaborate property tax scam in San Diego saw fraudsters sending personalized letters to different properties, which appeared to be coming from the County Assessor's Office. The letter, made to look official, but displaying only public information, would identify the property's assessed value and offer the homeowner, for a fee of course, to arrange for a reassessment of the property's value and therefore the tax burden associated with it.

Closely related, the “Reverse Mortgage” scam has mushroomed in recent years.  With legitimate reverse mortgages increasing in frequency, more than 1,300% between 1999 and 2008, scammers are taking advantage of this new popularity.  Unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when the perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the current property.

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams


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Here, scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize.  Often, seniors will receive a check that they can deposit into their bank account.  While the illegitimate check shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before this fake check is rejected.  During this time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed winnings, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from their account as soon as the check bounces.

Grandparents Scam


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This one is so simple and devious because it uses one of older adults' most reliable assets, their hearts.  Scammers will place a call to an older person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?”  When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.  Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem such as overdue rent, late car payment, etc., and request it be sent by immediately by Western Union or MoneyGram, which doesn't always require identification to collect.  At the same time, the scam artist will plead, “Please don't tell my parents.  They’ll kill me!”  While the scam may only involve a few hundred dollars, it can be perpetuated over and over again.

The Senior Walk-in Tub Scam


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The Walk-in Tub for seniors is one of the best safety, comfort, and consumer-designed medical devices to come along in years. It offers a safe way for the elderly to bathe themselves, independently, without the fear of falling, and to enjoy hydrotherapy to treat many of their medical conditions. 

However, many unscrupulous salesmen have tried to tarnish that image by creating scams around it.  For example, prices for just Walk-in Tub itself can vary from $2,000 to $20,000, based on the supplier you talk to. Why such a wide range?  There is no justifiable answer, except that some have tried to scam older people into spending much more of their treasured retirement money. 

Usually the scammer will play on the heartstrings of the husband or wife by saying something like, “You know she needs this.  What kind of price tag would you place on her health?  Regardless of the price, isn't she worth it?”  Being placed on the spot, many partners will give in and spend 10 times what they should be spending for a Walk-in Tub.  Often the scammer will add, “We only have this price available today.  It’s normally priced much higher, but since we’re already talking, I can save you a lot of money.”  This is a typical, over-the-top sales scamming, and some skilled pros can be very persuasive.

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The good news is that many seniors are too smart for this.  They’ll shop around and compare prices and features.  There is no reason to pay more than $5,000 for the Walk-in Tub and that price includes installation.  Obviously, if there’s more remodeling to be done in the bathroom to properly install the unit, or to doorways to be able to bring the unit into the bathroom, it may warrant some additional installation costs. 

The Walk-in Tub itself certainly is not a scam, but many who try to take advantage of the elderly by pricing it too high or by adding additional expenses (such high installation fees) have created a scam surrounding it.

As far many other of the aforementioned senior-focused scams go, happily, the truth is, seniors today are not only well-educated, they have more experience in dealing with hucksters.  The old adage, “I wasn't born yesterday,” plays well here.  Some imagine they can confuse the senior by talking in circles or trying to confuse them.  This tactic will normally cause the senior to hang up the phone even more quickly.  They don’t call these the “Wisdom Years” for nothing, after all.
  
In this article, I talked about the prevalence of different types of scams that typically target the senior population. I also pointed out that one of these scams involves the pricing of and installation regarding the Walk-in Tub.

If you have a comment, please type it in the Comment section below.  Of course, I encourage you to share this article with your family, friends, and colleagues. 

Have a question?  Feel free to contact me at the number or email listed below and I’ll personally get back to you.  Thanks for reading; it’s been my pleasure to share this information with you.

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Alan Knight is the owner of Tub King, Inc., and  SeniorBathtub.com  in Jacksonville, Florida. He had many years of experience in the antique and senior bathtub industries. These companies not only provide superior products, they are also multi-award winners, receiving the “Best of Jacksonville Chamber Award” four years running. To contact Tub King directly, call (800)843-4231 or email alan@tubking.com.

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