As the co-founder of the nation’s first ElderAbuse 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.
Tax season is upon us, and 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 help residents and other older adults avoid financial exploitation:
1. Understand how older adults are scammed.
The IRS will never contact older adults 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 they need as they get older as well as their dignity, because shame is associated with being scammed.
2. Check in daily and speak directly about calls, mail, email and 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. These calls and video calls have three factors: allow time, be specific and do not over react.
When you are fully present and not rushed, you show the older adults in your life that you value the conversation. Make the most of your time with residents, and encourage others in your residents’ lives to keep in regular contact.
Next, be specific. Direct questions elicit direct responses.
Ask, or encourage residents’ loved ones to ask, “Have you received any unusual calls, mail or emails?” and then talk about how commonly this occurs.
If the older adult seems to have fallen prey to a scammer or has come close to doing so, do not be judgmental. No adult likes to be parented or shamed. The shame rests with the criminal. Together, you and the older adult and / or his or her loved ones can take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
3. Recognize the roles of isolation and loneliness.
We have the honor of working with older adults every day. The strength, wisdom, intelligence and compassion of those ahead of me is inspiring to me.
Many older adults endure the death of a 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 — defined as wanting more social interaction than they currently have.
Criminals prey on lonely older adults by showering them with time and attention. To break this cycle, proactively reach out and connect with older adults. Make sure they are realizing the potential senior living benefits that community living is designed to offer against loneliness and isolation.
4. 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 when she threw it in the garbage, where it belonged. Empowerment leads to prevention.
5. 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. Consider helping residents and their families conduct research to find the best devices for their purposes, and ensure that devices offered by your community are secure.
One device that may be appropriate is GrandPad, because it is designed to prevent 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 on stealing their hard-earned money.