GUEST POST: Raising Awareness About Elder Fraud, Abuse and Exploitation
This past Saturday was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Sadly, the abuse suffered by senior citizens is an epidemic that makes driving awareness and understanding of what we all can do to help critical to minimizing these individuals’ risk across a variety of industries and areas. Let’s start with the facts:
An estimated $3 billion is lost annually through elder financial abuse;
One out of every five people age 65+ have been victimized by a financial fraud;
35% of people over the age of 71 have some form of cognitive impairment, making them more susceptible;
Seniors 85+ is the fastest growing segment of the population.
Unfortunately, elder abuse and fraud extends far into many branches of medicine. According to Dr. Rick Weyback, licensed cannabis physician and president of Doctor Jane, the medical cannabis industry is very much threatened by such concerns. Bait-and-switch scams are typically the most common of these risks; “Elderly individuals will schedule an appointment for a cannabis certification evaluation under the assumption that the visit will cost, say, $45.00,” Doctor Weyback explained. “Then, as the consultation ends, they’re handed a bill for $245.00 without little to no explanation as to why.” Patients and their families are encouraged to prioritize legitimacy and transparency in their search for healthcare professionals focused in any field.
Why Target Seniors?
Most have been saving for a long time so they have a nest egg, seniors control 70% of the nation’s wealth, they have excellent credit and often times they are more polite and trusting than younger generations. What is most disconcerting however, is that seniors are not sure who to report to and they don’t want their family members to think they can’t handle their financial affairs.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just financial abuse or exploitation. Seniors can oftentimes be the victim of physical and/or emotional abuse and neglect, which also includes self-neglect. Sadly, family dynamics can be a major contributing factor in adult abuse. The greatest risk for the victim comes from those with whom they live.
There are countless scams and schemes targeting seniors. We’ll address the most common here and then discuss how one can protect themselves and what to do if one suspects a loved one is the victim of abuse:
“The Grandparents Scam”: Someone calls and pretends to be the grandson/granddaughter and says, “Grandma, I’m stuck in Mexico. I need you to wire money to me so I can come home.”
Lottery & Sweepstakes Fraud: Seniors are told they won a sweepstakes but they must pay a fee for taxes and shipping before it can be claimed.
Investment Schemes: Most people are familiar with these types of scams. They are also called Ponzi schemes, which promise high financial returns or dividends or Pyramid schemes which are similar to Ponzi schemes with investors encouraged to recruit others.
Home Improvement Scams: Be cautious of repairmen that recommend full replacements and always make sure to collect a copy of the contractor’s license and contractor number
Identity Theft: If people have the last four digits of someone’s social security number, date of birth and mother’s maiden name they can get almost anything. Keep a copy of all credit cards, social security card and license in a safe at home.
Other scams include reverse mortgage scams, health care fraud, telemarketing fraud and charitable donation scams.
How Can You or Your Loved Ones Protect Themselves?
So how do people protect themselves? Scammers are slick and they can spot an easy target a mile away. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Use direct deposit for check payments received
NEVER sign a blank check allowing another person to fill in the amount
DO NOT leave money or valuables in plain view
DO NOT sign anything you don’t understand
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
NEVER give a caller your credit card number of any form of personal identification
Check bank statements carefully to make sure there are no unauthorized withdrawals
Be cautious of joint accounts; both parties are equal owners and have equal access to the funds
Home Repair Fraud
Compare estimates carefully; the lowest bid isn’t always the best one
NEVER agree to get your own permits; this makes you responsible for everything
NEVER be pressured into making a hasty decision
NEVER accept someone’s offer to take you to the bank to withdraw money for any reason
NEVER pay cash
NEVER pay for unfinished work or jobs that have not been inspected
NEVER carry a social security card
NEVER carry multiple credit cards
NEVER give personal information over the phone
NEVER print identification numbers on checks
NEVER answer unsolicited email that asks for personal information
ALWAYS shred mail and information with your name and other information on it
ALWAYS stop mail when you’re on vacation
If you’re shopping online, only purchase from merchants that have secure websites
ALWAYS have checks printed with initials only and no street address; pick up checks at the bank, if possible
If you are the victim of a financial crime, report it immediately to local law enforcement and request a copy of the case report. Then file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 877-438-4338. Immediately contact your bank and close affected accounts. Keep a detailed log of who has been contacted and be sure to save copies of all correspondence. Be sure to notify all credit card companies and place fraud alerts on Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
If you suspect a loved one is the victim of abuse, financial or otherwise, you can, and should, report it. Although the authorities may differ depending on what state the victim is living in, in general, reports can be made to the State Department of Human Services, the office of the district attorney in the county in which the abuse took place and/or the local municipal police department or sheriff’s department. In addition, reports can be made to the Adult Protective Services office nearest where the crime occurred.
Melissa Morante is an owner of ComForCare Home Care and serves as Chief Marketing Officer.
Melissa is an expert in Parkinson’s Disease, working to train the agency’s caregivers on recognizing both motor and non-motor symptoms and how to care for those living with the disease. She serves on the board of directors for the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) South Florida Chapter lending support to those who are living with the disease. Melissa facilitates a support group for family caregivers and those for whom they care.
As a health and wellness aficionado, Melissa believes that a healthy lifestyle and a diet rich in whole foods and regular exercise are the best medicines. Melissa is a certified group fitness instructor with a specialty in senior fitness. She currently volunteers her time leading exercise classes in independent living facilities throughout the area.
ComForCare Home Care offers private-duty, non-medical home health care that allows people to age comfortably, safely and happily in place. The company has unique expertise in working with those living with Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, Parkinson’s Disease and other chronic conditions. Services include grooming, hygiene, meal preparation, light housekeeping, transportation, medication reminders and more.
To learn more, visit www.palmbeach.comforcare.com.