Elder financial abuse is a growing problem, even a “burgeoning public health crisis” and “virtual epidemic,” according to some experts, as con artists scam seniors out of their savings, pensions and homes.
There is no solid national estimate for just how much our elders lose each year to fraudsters, according to a 2018 report on elder financial exploitation from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. But, a 2016 study assessing losses suffered by those age 60 and up in the state of New York alone ranged between nearly $352 million to more than $1.5 billion.
Seniors, in particular, fall prey to scammers for several reasons, according to the SEC report. Financial impairment, it says, is one of the first signs of cognitive decline that can happen when we age. Retirement savings and pensions can make them appear like wealthy targets. And they are more often taking on student debt for children and grandchildren.
These scams can occur in a number of ways, including outright theft of cash or other possessions; dishonest management of a senior’s money and accounts; unauthorized sales or transfers of real estate; and scams where unscrupulous businesses take advantage of seniors.
But watchful friends and family can spot these scams. The Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse & Neglect at the University of California, Irvine, says there are five red flags that a senior may be victim of financial abuse exploitation.
Those warning signs are:
If you suspect that your loved one has been a target of a financial con artist, it’s critical that you act immediately, including a call to local law enforcement. But there are other resources beyond your local police department or sheriff’s office.
If the culprit is misusing the victim’s personal information, contact the Federal Trade Commission’s website IdentityTheft.gov. On the site, you can report what’s happening, get a recovery plan and put it into action.
You also can contact adult protective services agencies in the state or territory where you live to report what’s happening and get help. The National Adult Protective Services Association has information about agencies across the country.
Most cases of elder abuse fraud are never reported, according to that SEC report. The study of seniors in New York estimated that for every single case of elder financial abuse, 44 go unreported. That’s why it’s critical that once you’ve extricated your loved one from the grips of a scam artist, you must continue to keep a watchful eye on them and on other loved ones who may fall prey to a similar con.
The Federal Trade Commission’s website includes a list of possible scams that a senior could be a victim of, how to identify them and what to do next. Arming ourselves with knowledge and the steps to stop these crimes from happening will prevent the next senior from losing their hard-earned savings, their homes and their happiness and comfort in their golden years.
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