Growing old is never easy. As we age, our health suffers, our physical functions deteriorate, and our mental acuity can be impacted. Seniors may also have to deal with the increasing scourge of criminal scams and fraud directed towards them. These scams can have a terrible impact on the victims, aside from the financial loss, such as the creation of healthcare inequities, increasing and advancing mental health deterioration, and fracturing families.
Seniors are more likely to be defrauded than any other segment of the population. There are many reasons for this, amongst them: social isolation, healthcare issues, the assumption that seniors have money, financial illiteracy, and, in many cases, a relative or caregiver with abusing substances.
To give you an idea of the seriousness of the situation, the 2011 MetLife study of financial elder abuse came up with the staggering sum of over 2.9 billion dollars as that year’s haul for these scavengers, an increase of 12% over 2008. Remember that those are only the numbers we know about. Most scams remain unreported.
Fraud can be divided into 3 main categories depending on the context of the perpetrator:
- A crime of desperation: the perpetrator is in great need and the easiest potential victim at hand is a senior.
- A crime of predation: the most common, this kind of crime is perpetrated by career criminals that specialize in scamming the elderly.
- A crime of occasion: in this case, the victim is in the way of the scammer’s goals and ambitions.
Here is a short summary of the most common scams targeting seniors.
Common senior fraud:
- Investment Fraud: these scams lure seniors into investing in complicated yet high yield investments that are, of course, infallible. The scammers tend to be very good communicators and very persuasive, using every emotional string available to close the deal. These can be both real operators working for unscrupulous yet legal institutions, or, of course, they may be criminal pretenders.
- Medical Fraud: a very popular scam, the fraudsters here profit from the frailty of the elderly and “offer” free or test products, such as expensive medical equipment or services, which are then billed through their credit or health cards. These crooks offer the necessary forms for the elderly to fill out and are always at hand to maintain the emotional pressure necessary to close the deal. Prescription drug scams fall under this category.
- Telemarketing: this is the easiest type of fraud to perpetrate, especially because the elderly can be too trusting with their credit card information, not realizing the risks involved. The newly popular Medicare Replacement Card Scam falls under this category.
- Fraudulent Products: whether it is the newest anti-aging cream or a supposedly ground-breaking natural miracle painkiller, the products on offer to the elderly by these modern-day snake oil merchants seem inexhaustible. They get more and more expensive, too.
How Can Seniors Protect Themselves from Fraudsters?
- Awareness: “Forewarned is forearmed.” Knowing that such scams and frauds exist should allow seniors to be more careful, especially when encountering charming strangers.
- Socializing: while being on your own as a senior is manageable, isolated seniors are more likely to get scammed than others with a strong social network. Seniors benefiting from a strong social network have opportunities to hear advice and heed warnings regarding recurrent scams and frauds.
- Demand Written Proof: ask any sellers for their identity. Get into the habit of demanding to solicitors that you’re not used to buying or subscribing over the phone and that you only accept written orders.
- Protect Your Date: make a habit of destroying all receipts with your credit information. These details can be used to scam you.
- Anonymity: call your telephone provider and sign up for a “no call” list to avoid being visible to telemarketers and fraudsters.
- Be Suspicious: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be skeptical.
- Keep Abreast of Your Expenses and Medicare: keep checking your bank statements and Medicare bills for irregularities. Be aware of salesmen offering products and services paid by Medicare.
- Person of Confidence: Find someone trustworthy to help you with your financial issues.
How Families Can Help
Families and senior caregivers have a part to play in protecting the elderly. Here are some warning signs that someone may be taking advantage of a senior:
- Irregularities in their banking statements, such as atypical payments, new bills appearing, and frequent or hefty ATM withdrawals.
- The elderly person appears confused and afraid.
- Unpaid bills appear, even though funds should be sufficient to cover them.
- In case of the caregiver being part of fraudulent activity, you should watch out if they seem to be overly protective and won’t allow others to spend time with your loved one.
In case of fraud, the appropriate authority is the Adult Protective Services. If you feel that a senior is being victimized by fraud, don’t hesitate to act.
Seniors have lived a long and full life and deserve to be treated with respect and admiration. Unfortunately, scam artists try to take advantage of the fact that many seniors are often not up-to-date when it comes to the latest in technology, and the business practices of corporations and health care practitioners. For this reason, it is vitally important that you help make your senior loved one aware of how they can become victims of fraud, and the steps they can take to prevent it. For more information or assistance in protecting a senior family member’s financial well-being, contact one of our experienced senior care consultants at Shelton Care Management.