Elder exploitation can be described as the act of treating seniors and adults unfairly in order to benefit from them or take advantage of them. It is one of the fastest growing forms of elder abuse in America. The National Council on Aging shares that “approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+, have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.”
Unfortunately, in the majority of situations today, this crime is perpetrated by a trusted person in the life of the vulnerable adult. This person(s) may be a family caregiver, family member, neighbor, attorney, bank employee, pastor and/or medical professional. In many instances, it is because of the trusted relationship that the perpetrator is able to accomplish so much or continue uninterrupted for an extended period of time.
Elder abuse can be committed against an elder by an unknown person as well. Seniors and vulnerable adults are often both more trusting and more reluctant to report suspicious activity. It is critical that each of us learn as much as we can about elder exploitation to protect ourselves as well as the seniors we care about. Let us share seven of the top elder exploitation scams that you need to familiarize yourself with to better advocate for the seniors in your life.
1. Telemarketing scams. This is a phone call scam targeting seniors in order to gain access to their money or identity. In an increasing number of cases, these phone calls are threatening. Be sure to tell the seniors you know to be wary of speaking to anyone they do not know and to consider investing in a phone with caller identification.
2. Lottery and sweepstakes scams. These forms of scams occur through paper mail or phone calls. Often, they will say something along the lines of, “You have already won! Please send $5,000 to cover the cost of resulting taxes.” Warn the seniors in your life to remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
3. Utility company scams. This type of crime can occur two ways. First, through the mail or a phone call where the scammer claims a nominal bill amount must be paid immediately or the power will be turned off. Second, someone posing as a utility company worker will ask seniors to go outside to speak while an accomplice enters the house to steal valuables.
4. Predatory lending scams. Many of these are emotionally engineered scams focusing on a senior’s worry about running out of money. They are structured to be appealing to someone on a fixed budget and can reach a senior through the mail, a phone call or in person. Although they may seem like a small amount of money to repay they are comprised of super high interest rates (some over 100%) and have an extremely high penalty for missed payments. Think this is too crazy to be true? Just read about these real life examples as featured in the Los Angeles Times.
5. At-home care provider scams. In this instance, caregivers will charge for unnecessary services, ask for money to help seniors “pay their bills” while never paying them, and falsify time sheets. Many times this type of scam will begin after the senior is dependent on the caregiver and is hesitant to report or fire him or her.
6. Grandparent scams. Scammers will pretend to be a grandchild of the senior. He or she will call in the middle of the night, often hysterical, asking for immediately monetary assistance. The scammers try to find times when the senior will be disoriented and alone. Work with the seniors in your life to reassure them to call you first, before ever providing bank account information.
7. Jury duty scam. This is primarily a phone-based scam. The senior will receive a phone call that claims the senior has failed to show up for jury duty. In order to avoid immediate jail-time, the scammer will claim the senior can pay a large fine over the phone.
8. IRS scam. There are more and more scammers pretending to be the IRS over the phone. They claim that a large tax lien will be charged against the senior unless an amount of money is paid on this day. Let the seniors in your life know that the IRS never makes a phone call and to not provide money over the phone.
9. Medicare card scam. A new Medicare card is being issued this year with a new design that removes social security numbers from the face of the card in an effort to reduce fraud. These cards are being automatically mailed and nothing needs to be done to request one. However, scams relating to the new card are already surfacing. Some Medicare recipients report getting calls from scamsters who tell them that they must pay for the new card and then ask them for their checking account and Medicare card numbers. Don’t give out either number.
10. Online dating scams. More and more people are looking for love online. A large chunk are those age 50 to 64, and dating services aimed at baby boomers are expected to grow the most over the next five years. Last year, more than 15,000 victims lost some $210 million in “confidence frauds” and romance scams, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The lesson: Meeting people online comes with risks. And the way to protect yourself or someone you love isn’t as simple as “Don’t be foolish.” Smart people fall prey to scams, too. Teach the seniors in your life how to keep their Facebook profile private. Educate them about simple cues of a scammer and how to chat safer. For example, Tinder has this helpful warning list for users. Lastly, encourage your seniors (and you for that matter) to verify, verify, verify. Do some cyber stalking by reverse Google searching the images on an online dating or Facebook profile to see if they are recycled stock photos.
While these scams can seem to be easily avoided, this is not always the case. Those who commit crimes of elder exploitation often know what they are doing and the emotional triggers that will cause another person to react the way they want. Help the seniors in your life know that it is alright to be suspicious and to not react to any company or individual without doing research first. If you or someone you know has recently fallen victim to elder exploitation, do not wait to seek help and report this crime.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and has a passion for educating his community about trust and estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most.