Grandma’s phone rings. An authoritative-sounding person claims to be calling from the Internal Revenue Service, threatening arrest and immediate seizure of assets if she doesn’t follow the caller’s exact instructions.
Most of us know better about scams and have the presence of mind to hang up, but among the elderly, there’s a surprising tendency to assume this is the real thing. Social Security and bank account information comes forth. Before family members have a chance to react, Grandma’s life’s savings could be gone in a flash.
It’s not always a phone scam. Someone could come knocking at the door, claiming to represent a charity. A trusted caregiver might steal a bank card or forge checks. In the wrong hands, a power of attorney authorization could wreak legal and financial havoc.
Senior citizens are 34 percent more likely to lose money in rip-off schemes than their middle-age counterparts, says the Stanford University Center for Longevity. Only one in 44 cases of elderly financial abuse is ever reported, according to one study. All too often, before anyone has a chance to detect what’s happening, the damage is done.
Dementia often is a big factor in rip-offs. Along with diminished physical capacity comes an increased tendency to place undue trust in others — and not just strangers. Ninety percent of financial abusers are family members and other trusted individuals, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.
That’s how the elderly lose an estimated $36.5 billion a year to financial abuse, as Dallas Morning News personal finance writer Pamela Yip reported recently. The challenge promises only to grow as aging baby boomers flood the ranks of seniors.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 20 percent of the population, or 72 million people, will be 65 or older within the next two decades. In Dallas County, the over-65 population has doubled since 1970 to reach 234,557 in 2013.
It’s time to get educated and plan ahead.
The first line of defense is to remind potential victims of their vulnerability so they can be wary. Sometimes it takes a lot of reminding. Stubbornness and forgetfulness can get in the way. The hardest part for family members is determining when intervention is necessary, because it typically entails a loss of independence and sense of humiliation for the person who needs protecting.
Classes, advisory sessions and legal help are available locally through advocacy groups such as The Senior Source, the Dallas Area Agency on Aging and the Dallas Bar Association’s volunteer attorney program. If you suspect a problem is developing, don’t wait. Visit the National Adult Protective Services Association website, napsa-now.org. There you will find voluminous information about the signs of elder financial exploitation and how to fight back.
Know the facts
One in 9 seniors reported being abused, neglected or exploited in the past 12 months; the rate of financial exploitation is extremely high, with 1 in 20 older adults indicating some form of perceived financial mistreatment in the recent past.
Elder abuse is vastly underreported; only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is reported, a study says.
Abused seniors are three times more likely to die; elder abuse victims are four times more likely to go into a nursing home.
Ninety percent of abusers are family members or trusted others.
Almost 1 in 10 financial abuse victims will turn to Medicaid as a direct result of their money being stolen.
Cognitive impairment and the need for help with activities of daily living make victims more vulnerable to financial abuse.
SOURCE: National Adult Protective Services Association
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Editorial: Recognizing the scams that exploit seniors