Sadly, financial abuse of seniors is not uncommon. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, more than 2 million senior citizens are affected by financial abuse. It is the number one crime committed against people over age 65.
Seniors lose nearly $3 billion to fraud annually, according to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. You must be aware of the most common types of scams and fraud to protect yourself and your loved ones.
It seems that every day a new type of scam pops up. Originally, seniors would fall prey to official-looking letters coming in the mail each day. They would promise prize winnings, free trips, and money — which is very tempting to a senior living on a fixed income. Many required “just a small deposit” to be returned in order to secure the winnings, which of course never materialized.
Then, telephone calls became popular. Maybe your mother was sitting at home watching TV when the phone rang and a friendly voice was on the other end asking how her day was going. Mom doesn’t get out much and is lonely, and yearns to have a conversation. The person becomes a friend and then asks for a loan, or offers services to Mom for a fee. The money disappears and Mom is lonely once again.
There are the scammers preying on grandparents, pretending to be a grandchild stranded in India who needs money to get home. The money is wired to a faraway destination and the grandchild was never there to begin with.
With more and more seniors becoming tech-savvy and spending time online with family and friends, the same scams can work electronically, as well. Be sure your loved one has security protocols on their computer, like anti-spyware, antivirus and anti-phishing software. Additionally, a secure firewall on the computer and mobile devices is a must to prevent scammer intrusions.
Now thieves have sophisticated equipment that can wirelessly copy credit card information from an online site or even in person when one pays for gas or uses an ATM machine. They clone the credit card and go on a spending spree. They can even copy a Medicare or other health insurance card and buy costly medical procedures for themselves, or sell the information.
The ways these scams can be perpetrated are endless, so you and your loved one need to be wary at all times.
Watch your credit transactions daily to make sure no one has your social security or credit card numbers. Be careful who you give your private information to, and ask why the person needs that data. Never buy anything on the spur of the moment by mail, phone, TV or internet. Ask for more information and more time. Ask for the name and contact information of the person — which often ends the conversation. Only purchase items from a secure payment device that you trust, whether in person or online.
There are services now that can help you and your loved one protect yourself. Annually, you can obtain a free credit report for yourself to make sure no one has used your name, credit card or social security number.
Opt out of telephone calls by calling 888-382-1222 or visiting donotcall.gov. Opt out of mailings for free credit cards that thieves steal from your mail by calling 888-567-8688 or visiting optoutprescreen.com.
Finally, if you or a relative are a victim, report it. The AARP has found that as many as 75% of people older than age 55 don’t report fraud. Don’t be embarrassed — it can happen to anyone. Call the national fraud hotline at 1-855-303-9470 for information and to report scams.
Laurie G. Steiner is a member of the law firm of Solomon, Steiner & Peck, Ltd. She is a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation and the Ohio State Bar Association, and an Accredited attorney for the preparation, presentation and prosecution of claims for veterans benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). She practices in the areas of Elder Law, Medicaid, VA and Disability Planning, and Estate and Trust Planning and Administration.