Abuse of our older citizens in the United States comes in many forms, but one of the most insidious practices is through financial abuse. Elder financial abuse is the misuse, mismanagement, or misappropriation, of an older person’s property or equity without their informed consent. An example of such a malicious act is when a grandchild for instance, takes their grandmother’s social security check out of her mailbox without her knowledge or consent, and then cashes it. A 2009, study from MetLife, found that elder financial abuse is booming, with an estimated costs for older Americans ranging in the billions, some estimating the effect as great as $2.6 billion per year. While all older Americans are potential targets, the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) states that the “typical” victim of elder financial abuse is between the ages of 70 and 89, tend to be Caucasian, female, with a potential health or cognitive impairment. While most older Americans do not report elder abuse based upon fear of retaliation, fear of loss of personal freedoms, or fear of a change in their current living situations, over 90 percent of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members. Most frequently their adult children, grandchildren, extended family and lastly a caregiver are often to blame for their deceptive motives. Similar methods can be used to determine whether one’s loved one is being taken advantage of by a pop up charity, or telemarketers, as with unscrupulous family members who may not think twice about taking advantage of the older Americans in your life.
Financial exploitation can be conducted in numerous ways but the overarching themes are giving strangers your private information without first vetting them, believing that you can get something for nothing, and playing to a person’s goodhearted nature. Suspicious spending is always a trigger for financial abuse. If your loved one who has been diligent about money all their lives suddenly begins making unusual purchases outside of their character, probe to see if they have shared their social security number or credit card information with anyone recently, be it over the phone, or in person, for any reason. If any checks bounce that normally are well within your older citizen’s monthly budget, this could be a red flag that someone has been tampering with his or her finances. Particularly going into the holiday season or after tragedy strikes, pop up charities with detailed but bogus websites are ready to take an unsuspecting person’s credit card information. Charity websites should end with .org not the typical .com if it is a reputable site, but that nugget of wisdom alone cannot keep you from being scammed. Especially hurtful with these type of scams, is that the person donating thinks they are doing a good deed, when in actuality they have just given their personal information to a scammer who later intends to use the donator’s information for the purpose of identity theft.
The Internet is ripe with scams, particularly enticing to older Americans is the one that promises generic or lower costing medications all for a low monthly fee. When you take into account that one of the costliest parts of an older citizens monthly budget is their health insurance and prescription plans it is understandable as to why older Americans are preyed upon. Once you sign up the scammers now have access to your name, address, and credit card information. Even more unsettling is that older Americans who sign up are often being sent placebos or pills that exacerbate their prior medical conditions. Lastly this holiday season by implementing a quick screening of potential scammers you can avoid the “grandparent scam”. The grandparent scam goes something like this; a grandparent picks up a call from a frantic voice. The voice on the other end of the phone says, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” Once the unsuspecting grandparent gives a name, the scammer goes into a tearjerker of a story as to why they quickly need them to wire them money, be it payment for a car repair, overdue rent, or hospitalization. Most importantly is that the scammer will implore the grandparent to not tell their parents as it will get them into hot water. In order to ensure that your loved ones do not fall for the “grandparent scam” make it a policy to not answer an open ended question with the correct grandchild’s name, and see if the scammer continues with their scripted response. Give the name of a pet or best friend, something easy to remember when you are being pressured to answer quickly. A great way for your parents or loved one to not be bombarded by such phone calls is to put them on the “Do Not Call” list by visiting www.donotcall.gov and to be suspicious of anyone that calls in a panic with a pressure sale.
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