As the Co-founder of the nation's first Elder Abuse Forensic Center, I’ve seen first-hand how perpetrators can steal thousands of dollars from older adults. Financial exploitation among older adults is a $37 billion industry and is growing every day. As tax season approaches, it’s important to know what the biggest scams are, so we recognize and prevent these heinous crimes. Here are a few tips on how-to avoid financial exploitation among older adults.
- Understand how older adults are scammed
The IRS will never contact you for money by mail, email, or over the phone, but scammers use these mediums to aggressively threaten seniors. By stealing money, scammers are taking away the security we need as we get older, as well as our dignity because there is a shame associated with being scammed.
- Check in daily and speak directly about calls, mail, email, internet scams
My mother is 90 years-old. We live near one another and I see her often, but I also reach out to her every day to check-in. There are three key factors to these calls and video calls: allow time; be specific; and do not over react. When you are fully present and not rushed, you show your parent that you value the conversation. Next, be specific, direct questions elicit direct responses. Ask “have you received any unusual calls, mail, or emails” and then talk about how commonly this occurs. If you hear your parent has fallen prey to a scammer or has come close, do not be judgmental. You are not the parent, your parent is and no adult likes to be parented or shamed. The shame lays on the criminal and together you and your parent can take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
- Recognize the role of isolation and loneliness
I have the honour of working with older adults every day - the strength, wisdom, intelligence, and compassion of those ahead of me, is inspiring. Many older adults endure the death of their spouse, live with acute and chronic medical conditions, and have mobility and transportation limitations. Taken together, these realities can contribute to loneliness - a key risk factor for financial exploitation. Research shows that 43% of older adults report feeling lonely as defined as wanting more social interaction than you currently have. Criminals prey upon lonely older adults by showering them with time and attention. To break this cycle, proactively reach out and connect with those you know and trust.
- Consider using video calls
Video calls can be a great way to battle scammers together. I was conducting a video call with one of my patients and she held up a piece of mail that said “IRS” but looked suspicious. She held the fake IRS letter up so we could read it together and she felt empowered to throw it in the garbage where it belonged. Empowerment leads to prevention.
- Do your research and find a secure device
According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elder exploitation is a public health problem. With secure technology, that is, a closed network of friends and family, exploitation can be avoided. Wireless connectivity and security must be built into a device to eliminate the risks of scams and hacks. One device that works is GrandPad because it prevents scammers from getting through to the older adults via phone, email and internet. What a joy it is for older adults to be able to easily connect with everyone they care about without being harassed by criminals intent upon stealing their hard-earned money.