The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum by Professor Michael Myers Editor's Note: The Elder Law Forum is a public service of the University of South Dakota School of Law, an extension of the SENIOR LEGAL HOTLINE available at no cost to persons 60 and older at 605-677-6343 and mmyers@usd.edu during regular business hours. The Elder Law Forum delivers information and educational material by radio, a weekly newspaper column, and Law School research papers placed on the USD School of Law Web site. Professor Myers teaches Elder Law at the School of Law.

Scamming at a

Branson Resort

Even prudent, conservative, and otherwise thoughtful persons are vulnerable to senior scams. "We just aren't the type of people who throw our money around," said the Senior Legal Helpline caller (1-800-747-1895; mmyers@usd.edu).

The caller was a woman in her 70s. She and her husband had responded to one of those "three-days-and-two nights-for $99" offers from a resort in Branson, MO. The bargain price was conditioned on a simple commitment: The willingness to listen to an organized sales pitch for retirement living.

She and her husband spent three days at the resort and fulfilled their obligation. They sat, listened, and firmly rejected the proposal. Then, the next morning, as they were checking out of the resort they were asked to participate in a "survey" session for the purpose of soliciting their opinion regarding the quality of their stay and critiquing the sales pitch.

Then during a "break" in the survey session they were enthusiastically informed about an opportunity to join the elite "Premier Travel Plan," entitling them to substantial discounts at some of the country's finest hotels, motels and resorts. "Their price started at $7,000," she advised, "then they kept dropping the price to what we finally paid, which was $2,990."

She wrote the check, returned home to South Dakota, and waited for the "Premier Travel Plan" card and materials to arrive in the mail. They never came. She called the Branson resort. They had no knowledge of such a company.

She contacted the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. It tried, but was unable to locate the party that had cashed the check. She contacted the Missouri Attorney General's Office.

"Its investigator won't return our phone calls," she lamented.

"Can someone steal $3,000 from us and get by with it?" she asked. Regrettably, the answer is yes.

This situation, however, does raise an interesting legal question: "Can a resort that allows its facilities to be used to perpetrate fraud be held liable for losses incurred by its guests?"

Perhaps, under the doctrine of estoppel agency, whereas in this case the victims rely upon the reputation of a resort, and that resort enjoys the profits from persons responding to the organized sales pitches delivered on its premises.

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