Get wise to scams!
The stranger who knocked on the older woman’s door wasn't wearing a mask or carrying a gun. In fact, he looked perfectly respectable, even sympathetic. He told her that her son was in trouble and needed $300 immediately.
When the woman said she had no cash on hand, the man offered to take her to her bank to make a withdrawal. There was no time to lose, he urged. He drove her to the bank and waited outside while she withdrew the money, then drove her back home.
When the woman’s son called later that day to check on her, she worriedly asked him if he was all right. “I’m fine,” he assured her. “Why are you asking?” Then she told him the story.
Financial exploitation is the fastest rising form of elder abuse, according to Joe Snyder, director of older adult protective services at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and former president of the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA). That “relative-in-distress” call is one of the more popular senior scams out there, says Snyder, now NAPSA’s public policy chairman.
The Met Life Mature Market Institute (MMI) published a 2009 study on financial exploitation, in conjunction with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Broken Trust: Elders, Family and Finances
reports that financial exploitation costs older American at least 2.6 billion dollars each year.
And the perpetrators are not always strangers. The conviction of Brooke Astor's son Anthony Marshall, as reported in the New York Times
demonstrates that elder abuse, financial and otherwise, can occur in any social group and include your nearest and dearest. In fact, family members comprise 55% of those financially exploiting the elderly, according to the Broken Trust
report. It estimates that for each reported incident of elder financial abuse, another four or more go unreported.
The trusting nature of many older persons, combined with the fact that many own their homes and have accumulated savings and other assets, make them an attractive target for financial abuse, from family members, caregivers or strangers. Factors like loneliness and dementia can make them even more vulnerable, says Snyder.
Financial abuse by family members typically involves redirecting or stealing benefits check or getting access to a credit card and running up untold bills, according to Snyder. Strangers often exploit elderly victims through scams, he says. Among them are:
· ‘Relative in distress’
· Predatory lending
· Repair and contracting scams
· Telemarketing, charity, prize and sweepstake scams
· Medicare card scams, and
· Identity theft
In the latter instance, for example, the victim may receive a call from someone claiming to represent a bank, credit agency or other official financial organization. The older person is then asked to supply key information , such as account number, Social Security or PIN number so that the ‘fraud’ can be righted.
PCA’s Stop Senior Scams website
offers some key tips to help seniors (and anyone) avoid becoming a victim:
· If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
· When it comes to a "now or never" opportunity, choose "never."
· Keep account numbers, codes and passwords private.
· Shred bills, junk mail and receipts when discarding them.
· Don't be afraid to report your experiences. If you feel uncomfortable, tell someone.
In Philadelphia, elder abuse, including financial exploitation, can be reported to an Older Adult Protective Services investigator 24/7 by calling the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040.
Bank staff can play a vital role in spotting signs of financial abuse, says Snyder, who partnered with Wachovia Bank (now Wells Fargo) in Philadelphia to start a financial exploitation training program. Key signs can include changes in an elderly customer’s usual banking habits such as large or unusual bank withdrawals; sudden increases in credit or debit activity; the sudden involvement of others in an elderly person’s financial affairs; or directing that bank statements be sent to other than the older person’s home.
Recently, PCA began partnering with the city, with the support of the Mayor, District Attorney and Police Commissioner, to form a Task Force addressing financial exploitation of the elderly. The aim is to improve sharing of information and coordination in these cases and “hopefully it will lead to more prosecutions,” Snyder says.
For the first time, federal legislation was passed to address abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly, as part of the Health Care Reform Act
. Funds now need to be appropriated to support the act's provisions, Snyder said. In the case of Elder Justice, these include funding for state and local adult protective service programs; financing nearly 1,700 more investigators of elder abuse nationwide; providing for state demonstration grants to pilot new programs of elder abuse prevention; creating a coordinating council to make recommendations on elder abuse prevention, and more.
“Adult Protective Services stands to benefit most if the EJA is fully funded,” Snyder says. He expressed satisfaction that after many years of trying, the Elder Justice Act was passed, but said that without adequate funding it won't be effective.