We are just coming out of the holiday season and chances are there were at least a few elderly people here in central Ohio who were the victims of a fraud scheme. Year-round the elderly are the prime target of fraudsters and scammers. Over the holidays, the number of victims goes up. Some scams are so devastating that they can literally cause financial ruin or worse, death.
A Woman Loses Life Savings – Commits Suicide a Week Later
Take the story of a Louisiana woman in her early 80s who was approached by scammers who told her that she had won a prize in some sweepstakes. In order to collect her winnings, she was told that she would have to pay the taxes and fees up front. She did it. But instead of then receiving a prize, she was asked for more money, and then more money, and then more money until she ended up taking out a reverse mortgage to cover the fees. She even cashed in her life insurance policy.
In the end, the elderly blind woman depleted hundreds of thousands of dollars—her entire life savings. It wasn’t until she took the humiliating step of having to borrow thousands of dollars that her family knew that she was in financial trouble. She hadn’t told anyone what she had done, initially because she was told not to tell anyone by the scammers, but then surely out of embarrassment.
Only a week after she had to borrow money from her family, the poor woman committed suicide. The scammers had taken everything but the $69 that remained in her bank account at the time of her death.
Elderly Victims Lose Over $35 Billion Each Year to Fraud
Anyone with a heart cannot imagine why, even for a scammer, why they would target such vulnerable people. The reason is simple – previous generations were far better at saving money than the current one. Many have thousands of dollars in the bank to live off of during their golden years. Often they may suffer from some sort of mental decline due to age and some are suffering from full on dementia.
Approximately five million elderly adults in the U.S. are targeted every year by scammers, stealing upwards of 35 billion dollars from them and some estimate the number is far higher. Worse, it’s not just professional fraud schemes that exploit the elderly. More often than not, it’s a relative or someone they know who takes advantage of them 90% of the time.
Baby Boomers were the largest generation of Americans for the longest time and now that they are retired and moving into their golden years, they are proving to be fertile ground for scammers and fraudsters. On top of that, it’s not just financial abuse the elderly are suffering from—they may be threatened or even physically abused to keep quiet.
Fighting Back Against Elder Abuse
When most people think of elder abuse, they think of physical abuse only. Yet financial abuse can be just as deadly. In fact, elderly victims of physical AND financial abuse “die at a rate three times faster than those who haven’t been abused.”
Last year the FBI rounded up over 250 suspected scammers and fraudsters who targeted the elderly—the biggest sweep of its kind in U.S. history. These evildoers abused a million Americans, stealing a half a billion dollars from them. Caught up in the sweep were these victims’ lawyers who exploited them, caregivers and guardians, and financial planners along with telemarketing scams and shady mortgage schemes.
There was not one state in the union where there wasn’t a victim and a perpetrator caught up in this sweep. In response, at the state level, legislatures in half of the states have enacted laws to counter the upsurge in elderly financial abuse schemes. These scammers don’t only go after wealthy seniors. They go after some of the poorest and most vulnerable, stealing Medicare and Social Security money as well as tax refunds and more.
What to Look For – And What to Do!
The elderly are some of our most cherished members and we want all of our people to be safe. There are things to watch for that can help prevent financial abuse and steps that you can take. Many scams have been identified and knowing what types of scams to look out for is half the battle.
One clue that you may become the target of an elder abuse scheme is something called “Age-Associated Financial Vulnerability (AAFV).” This relatively new term was coined back in 2015 to warn family members and caregivers of the elderly about what they should be watching for to determine if their loved one may be vulnerable to such schemes.
AAFV is defined as a “pattern of imprudent financial decision-making that begins at a late age and puts older adults at risk for material losses that could decimate their quality of life.” That means that even if an elderly person doesn’t suffer from diminished cognitive function as is the case with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, they may suffer from faltering “financial judgment.”
It can be something as simple as being contacted via e-mail and not understanding what they are doing – not because they don’t have the mental capacity but because they don’t understand new technology. When you start noticing your elderly loved ones making strange financial choices, it may be time to sit down and have a conversation about these things.
Click on this link to read up on the known financial abuse scams that target the elderly and tips for what to do about it. Stay safe this year and when you suspect that you or someone you love may be the victim of a financial abuse scam, don’t wait—get involved now.