Financial exploitation of America’s seniors is one of the fastest growing crimes as our nation shifts towards an older society.
According to the Elder Justice Coalition, financial fraud of our seniors range anywhere from $2.9 billion dollars to as high as $35 billion dollars and unfortunately, it is unclear as to the extent of this problem.
Shame, embarrassment and not knowing where to seek help makes senior exploitation an under-reported crime.
The targeted victim is a woman between the ages of 75 and 80 who is living alone. Based on United States Census Bureau statistics this is a sizable problem because 47 percent of all women aged 75 and older currently live by themselves.
Typical victims often have other issues present which include dementia and depression. These ailments make them inviting targets for scam artists. A recent study at Rush University in Chicago found that elderly with even mild cognitive impairment make them susceptible to financial scams due to ‘slowed perceptual speed and weakened episodic memory’.
The FBI reports that seniors are at higher risk of exploitation more now than ever before due to the increased use of electronic banking systems and the internet. The electronic way of doing business is often difficult for many seniors to understand or learn. This age group is attractive to con artists for a variety of reasons that include:
Many seniors own homes, have savings and financial investments and excellent credit making them attractive targets.
Con artists are aware of the fact that many seniors make poor witnesses. Most financial crimes involving bank accounts and investments occur over an extended period of time making it difficult for the victims to remember specifics and small details. It can be difficult to prove since such a pattern could be argued as gifting.
Because many seniors are polite and trusting, they think the best of others and are not suspicious of their motives. This opens seniors to exploitation by strangers and even family members.
Many seniors will not report such crimes because they are embarrassed that they have been caught in this web of deceit – especially if a family member was involved in the exploitation.
Con artists understand seniors are looking to regain their youth. Seniors will often buy products that promise a better memory, increased physical functioning and anti-cancer properties. Living with pain, decreased mobility and the loss of the ability to live independently make seniors susceptible to the lies and promises of quick cures by these criminals.
Seniors also fear that once it is known that they have been the victim of a scam, others will view them as vulnerable which could jeopardize their independence.
Telemarketers are also a major problem for seniors living alone in a house after the death of a partner. These opportunistic operators scan the newspaper and internet obituary reports in order to target who may now be a lonely senior. Social media makes locating vulnerable elderly much easier. Family postings and other information can often lead scammers to targets by following discussions of recent deaths, vacations and property acquisitions.
Seniors are also more likely to have their numbers listed in public directories because “it is what they always did” and it now costs extra to have an unlisted number which is an expense avoided by those on a limited budget.
Telemarketers are taught how to speak with people and those with ill intent are well-versed on how to exploit the weaknesses of our seniors. Some of the lines used by these cons include:
“If you don’t grab this offer now, I can’t guarantee it will be available tomorrow!”
“We have a free prize for you, all you need to do is pay the shipping and handling!”
“It is free, we just need your credit card number to make sure you get the prize we are sending you!”
“There is no need to check with your family or your attorney, we are here to support your independence!”
When a senior hears these statements or similar ones from an unsolicited caller, they should hang up the phone. If a senior falls prey to one of these scammers, attempts will be made to con them again and again until the funds are depleted.
As the warm weather arrives, unscrupulous contractors hit the streets in search of a big score – usually at the expense of the elderly. Last year, a major scam in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts targeted seniors who owned property.
These cons trolled neighborhoods looking for driveways in disrepair and waited to see who lived on the property. When they were confident a senior owned the home, they swooped in and offered to reseal the driveway at a discounted price with “left over materials” from a driveway they just “resurfaced a few blocks over”. In many cases, they used a name they read on a mailbox, stating that they sent them over.
After collecting payment, these scammers sprayed the driveway with an oily substance and left quickly, leaving behind a mess and an empty wallet.
The effects of financial abuse on the elderly is devastating. One study found that nearly one out of ten proven victims of financial abuse had their savings account emptied and were forced to give up their independence and move into a nursing facility. Even though these crimes are on the rise, many states that have adult protective services agencies have had their staff reduced and their budgets cut.
If a family member or friend becomes aware of a financial crime involving a senior, it is imperative that this be reported to the authorities. Although it may be too late to prevent the crime you are reporting, the information you provide could protect others. As the saying goes in so many areas of our lives today "If you see something, say something".
The best protection for seniors is a professional and independent fiduciary who has an obligation to the client, will monitor finances, pay bills and provide an accounting of financial resources on a regular basis. Such a plan allows the senior to remain independent while ensuring their financial needs are met today and well into the future. The costs of such fiduciary services are minimal compared to the losses that could be incurred if victimized by a scam.
For the senior, it will provide peace of mind and be money well spent.