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Company reminds of vulnerable elderly

  • By:Neil Lyons

I was surfing the Hulu app a few weeks ago looking for the next binge watch options. I stumbled across a very interesting, and disturbing, documentary series: “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult.”

The four-part series explores NXIVM, the infamous company that was part multi-level marketing, part make your life better with thousand-dollar self-help courses, and part listen to edicts of our semi-divine leader (company co-founder Keith Raniere) because he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Group promoted personal, professional development

NXIUM’s business model focuses on personal and professional development through its “executive success programs” and large-group awareness training.

Raniere, the company’s leader, claims the main emphasis of ESP programs “was to have people experience more joy in their lives.” (Interestingly enough, having people “experience more joy in their lives” is the same emphasis drug dealers use in their business models.)

The documentary also looks at charges that the company was a cult, headed by the all-knowing Raniere.

But the exploration of NXIUM as part-cult, part-overpriced snake oil marketing program, wasn’t the most egregious part of the documentary.

The most egregious part of the documentary was that NXIUM was essentially a front for a sex trafficking ring.

That’s right, the company was basically an elaborate grooming scheme invented by Raniere to sexually exploit NXIUM’s female members. Turns out that such a scheme is not just morally reprehensible, it’s also a crime. For his part in this high-dollar grift, company founder and leader Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120-years in prison for (among other things) racketeering and sex trafficking.

After viewing the documentary, it reminded me of the myriad of scams the elderly of subjected to on a daily basis.

Elderly are easy targets for manipulation

According to the FBI website, these are some fraud scams that target the elderly:

  • Romance scam: Criminals pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites to capitalize on their elderly victims’ desire to find companions.
  • Tech support scam: Criminals pose as technology support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammers gain remote access to victims’ devices and sensitive information.
  • Grandparent scam: Criminals pose as a relative—usually a child or grandchild—claiming to be in immediate financial need.
  • Government impersonation scam: Criminals pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.
  • Sweepstakes/charity/lottery scam: Criminals claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims’ trust. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can collect for a “fee.”
  • Home repair scam: Criminals appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide.
  • TV/radio scam: Criminals target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services, such as reverse mortgages or credit repair.
  • Family/caregiver scam: Relatives or acquaintances of the elderly victims take advantage of them or otherwise get their money.

What to do if you suspect fraud

If you believe that a friend or a loved one has been the victim of a fraud scam, contact local law enforcement or your nearest FBI field office. After contacting law enforcement, you should contact an elder law attorney to discuss potential legal options.

A scam doesn’t need to be as sophisticated as NXIUM to ensnare people, but it can wreak emotional and financial devastation on its victims.

Attorney Neil T. Lyons pursued a career in law for the sole purpose of helping people. His practice focuses on the area of elder law, including estate planning, trust and probate administration and guardianship. His early legal experience solidified his commitment to assisting, whenever possible, two very vulnerable groups: children and the elderly. He receives repeated recognition by various organizations for his pro bono efforts in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Neil also consistently engages in service to the legal community and joined the Luhrsen Goldberg staff in 2019. 

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