In the U.S., victims of elder financial abuse can lose a cumulative sum of about $3 billion a year, according to Bob Blancato, head of the Elder Justice Coalition and expert in the Caregiver Smile Summit.
And guess what? That is a low estimate. Another study reveals up to $36 billion in losses. As the population of aging people grows so do fraud and abuse.
For every case that is reported, up to five go unreported according to Blancato. The Justice Department states that one out of every 10 people in the U.S. is the victim of some sort of elder abuse.
The profile of an elder victim is a woman over 75, living alone. 47 percent of women over 70 live alone. The core issue of vulnerability to scams and frauds is summed up in one word – trust!
Once an older person yields their trust to someone, and that person violates their trust, elder abuse begins. Sadly, the majority of the cases are committed by family members who are easy to trust and easy to forgive. Therefore, it’s easy to become a victim.
Since people want to remain in their homes, they can also become the victims of unscrupulous home care workers. Blancato cautions how essential it is that workers be thoroughly vetted before hiring. There are many good people in home care, and the bad ones spoil the reputation of the industry.
Here are some tips for protecting yourself.
One of the key components of protection is open communication between the family caregiver and their loved ones. The preparation for aging needs to begin before it becomes a crisis situation.
In Blancato’s case – and my own – it started with tough conversations about finances. They led to us implementing protections for our parents, particularly in terms of protecting them financially.
For example, setting up a trust to protect assets was at the top of the list. Still, it’s a difficult task to accomplish. Older people are wary of talking to attorneys about their finances after all!
My mother-in-law receives tons of solicitations. Being from the WW2 generation, when something comes in the mail personally addressed to you, you feel compelled to respond.
When my wife reviewed her expenses over a six-month period, it was clear she was spending hundreds of dollars on donations to causes, some worthy and some not so much. My wife discussed the issue with her, and while she has cut down on her giving, my wife still has to monitor the mail when she is with her.
Mail fraud is on the rise, so paying bills by check and having the check information stolen can cause headaches. Blancato urges people to use direct deposit for funds coming in and to pay bills electronically.
This is yet another conversation to have with a loved one. The likelihood of older adults reverting from old school payment methods may be slim. That is when you need to come to agreement about taking over the bills for mom or dad.
The telephone can be a weapon. Scammers are sophisticated and can scare you. Those IRS calls saying you could go to prison are annoying. But guess what, there are many people that fall for them. Never give out any kind of sensitive information over the phone.
I interviewed Bob during the height of the terrible natural disasters going on around the world this year. Those breed unscrupulous contractors.
People may come to your door and say they can repair this or that and ask for money up front. They promise to return and do the work later, but never do. Don’t give to charities with which you are not familiar, as new ones crop up when disasters strike!
Isolation is a huge issue with elders. Another one of our Summit experts, Carol Marak, calls these people elder orphans.
It is vitally important to stay in contact with loved ones, especially if you are a long-distance caregiver. Helpful neighbors can be vital to looking out for mom or dad. Even the postman can monitor the house for activity.
Want to know more? Check out these useful sites.
You can hear my interview with Bob and 53 other great experts right now by registering for the virtual Caregiver Smile Summit.
Have you ever been the victim of a senior scam or fraud? What was your experience and how have you changed your behavior? Please share your insights below!