When Aging Actors Prey on the Elderly

Guest Blog: Welcome to the promise of the reversible mortgage, as explained by aging '70s stars who scare the bejeesus out of seniors, telling them to '"Pick up the phone NOW!" 


We've all seen the commercials — the affable yet aged 1970s TV star looks earnestly into the camera, feigning a concern for his audience and then clueing them into what may be financial salvation in their final years.

The actor's once youthful and chiseled features now appear doughy, a cravat or turtleneck conceals skin that was once taught. Hair the color of burnt ochre lies like a varnish that conceals the greying natural color of age — all in a ploy to mentor those whose access to Botox, hair plugs and a personal stylist are relegated in priority far behind the price of medication, the cost of food, and the rising expense of heating or cooling their home.

Welcome to the promise of the reversible mortgage, as explained by pitch men who urge seniors to '"Pick up the phone NOW!" They scare the bejeesus out of them while forecasting the financial doom that is unfortunately part of growing old in America.

Fear is a great sales tactic, especially when selling to the elderly.

In this window of 30 or 60 seconds, these actors leverage their legitimacy for a fee. The price to sell out one's generation varies, depending on their individual quotes. They sell a ticket of "consent," however misinformed that consent may be. They avoid more learned consumers by focusing in on the elderly.

After all, they are like an old friend. Someone who was invited into the home every week during primetime — and now they come calling with a request. "Pick up the phone" may seem benign on the surface, but once that phone is picked up and contact is made, a hard sell designed and orchestrated by hardened marketing specialists is broadcast personally to the caller — and it's hard to say no.

Saying no means you're a failure. They can put it as bluntly as that.

Reversible mortgages aren't the only product they shill, but it could be the most devastating for those whose only mistakes are living long and blurring the difference between man and Superman. The Supermen wear make-up, and while holding a cup of tea they conduct an intimate conversation that targets the growing percentage of elderly who have lost the ability to discriminate.

It's an offer that makes sense to nobody but those who are looking into the financial abyss.

The New York Times reported about "Aging Stars in a New Role: TV Pitchman." The article talked about celebrities who pitch innocuous items like hearing aids, stool softeners, Boniva and digestive-friendly yogurts. However, the focus of the article revealed the dangers that Reverse Mortgages offer the elderly.

As ours is a youth-obsessed culture, the growing demographic of baby-boomers who are finding themselves treading the murky waters of retirement, or see pensions disappearing or being wrenched away, is growing. Exponentially.

A reverse mortgage is not like a dose of Boniva, or the blissful benefits of a regular bowel-movement. It is something insidious to those who 'pick up the phone and call NOW'. 

According to the New York Times article: “When viewers see celebrities they’ve known for years endorsing a product that might seem a bit marginal, they think, whether it’s true or not. They don’t need the money, so this must be something they really believe in.”

This is especially true in the field that is ground zero for older celebrity endorsements: reverse mortgages. Robert Wagner (82), Pat Boone (77), Alex Trebek (71), former Senator Fred Thompson (69) and Henry Winkler (66) are enjoying second (sometimes third or fourth) careers telling people 62 and older how they can receive loans on the equity in their homes that do not have to be repaid until they die or move.

According to CANHR (California Activists for Nursing Home Reform), reverse mortgages need to be reformed, and they are joining Consumer's Union to do just that. If this were a question on "Jeopardy," Alex Trebek might answer: "This is a great way to screw the elderly" with, "What is a Reverse Mortgage?"

Reverse mortgages are fraught with risks. High fees that include up-front fees, a Servicing Fee Set Aside will probably be bundled into the new mortgage causing a monthly charge. Other taxes, insurance and fees are deducted from the proceeds. You are left with less equity in your home and, God forbid you outlive the mortgage, then you can be left with nothing, at a time of your life when you need financial support to sustain whatever years you have left.

If there is a lesson to this blog, it's this: I don't think Fonzie gives two sh–s about you and your retirement. Trebek wouldn't be shilling and giving his "earnest advice" for free. Wagner and Boone probably will never be in a position to need a cash bail-out in the form of a reverse mortgage.

As in anything, there are advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is information. We've already seen how the elderly are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to selling financial products.

I would give more credence to these links than I would to Alexander Mundy: http://www.canhr.org/newsroom/newdev_archive/2012/RevMort2012.html and http://www.reversemortgagedisadvantage.com/.

Please join me and over 700 of your community as we work for the rights of the elderly: contact AGE: Activists for Geriatric Equality.