Elder Abuse is a growing problem. Unfortunately, seniors have become the favored target of unscrupulous persons who see their vulnerability as a means to a profit. Sadly, much of the abuse and exploitation is perpetrated by the people who are most trusted by the victims - like their spouses, children, grandchildren, caregivers, or financial or other advisors. As a result, thousands of elder abuse cases go unreported or ignored each year.
How can you help your parents fight back against elder fraud?
Aside from a quick lesson in elder fraud protection, a handy “Alert List” by all the phones or computers in the home is often the best way to avoid these common elder fraud tricks, which include the following top ten ways to beat the bad guys.
Here is what to include on your “Senior Citizen Fraud Protection Alert List”.
1. Avoid sending money or providing personal financial information.
Be cautious who you disclose your bank account, credit card, and social security numbers to. Suspicious, but realistic looking checks made out for a considerable amount of money should be an elder fraud red flag. Checks such as these are usually accompanied with directions instructing the recipient to call a phone number. The message tells the caller to send taxes on the money he or she just received through a wire transfer service. The scam, of course, is that once the recipient sends the money, their check bounces.
2. Do not speak at length with people who are unfamiliar to you.
Tell your parents to decline answering questions of a private matter over the phone, Internet, or at the door. Above all, the key to elder fraud protection is caution. If a telemarketer who is pushing a product begins asking for too much information, tell your loved one to request the name of his or her employer, the address, and a phone number. If a caller asks to speak to the man of the house and there isn’t one, tell your mother never to indicate that she lives alone.
3. Do not sign any documents without reviewing them carefully.
Your loved one can often be signed up for something he or she may not be interested in and begin receiving phone calls that solicit other products. If anything appears suspect, tell your loved one to contact his or her lawyer or a trusted friend immediately. Many elder fraud con artists will pose as door-to-door salesmen and try to sell your loved one something on the spot, introducing multiple new products and a whirl of paperwork that needs to be signed now and paid for to ’secure’ it. This potential elder fraud ploy is dangerous, because the friendly salesman is no longer some distant threat with no face; he appears to be knowledgeable and trustworthy. Tell your parents not to allow anyone into the home they don’t know.
4. Check Out All Service Providers.
One of the newest elder fraud alerts is related to home construction or improvement, and much like any other industry, scams abound. Only use a well-known or recommended contractor in the area. Tell your parents to request references and contact the Better Business Bureau or the National Fraud Information Center if they’re unsure. And if the contractor wants all of the money upfront, tell your loved one to move on to the next choice.
Tell your loved one to call you with questions about any investment that involves a significant transfer of money or shares. In many cases, the AARP can be a lifesaver. AARP regularly sends out information on the latest elder fraud schemes and offers elder fraud protection tips, as well as financial planning assistance and consumer rights.
5. Shred all records before throwing them away.
Information regarding your loved one’s financial situation is often retrieved by con artists from discarded mail that is not shredded (also known as ‘dumpster diving’). It’s all too easy for elder fraud scammers to get bank account and credit card numbers from statements as well as details on safe deposit boxes, ATM cards, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, and more. Shred all mail before throwing it away!
6. Recognize predatory lending practices.
This senior financial abuse and elder fraud practice, also known as loan fraud, is often perpetrated by mortgage brokers, appraisers, and home contractors looking for a quick buck. Seniors approach these seemingly knowledgeable individuals looking to refinance their homes, but are bombarded by fast-talking scammers who incorporate a must-act clause into the deal. In the end, your loved one will walk away with a high-cost loan with exorbitant fees totaling more than 5% of the entire amount. These loans often include pre-payment penalties, ‘flipping’ (when a loan is refinanced to generate fee income without providing any net tangible benefit to the borrower), mandatory arbitration, and other unnecessary additions. Don’t let the senior make this decision alone.
7. Avoid health insurance scams by identifying the red flags.
Many lower income seniors rely on their Medicare health insurance, which is why many elder fraud scams originate here. Often, less-than-reputable medical equipment companies target seniors, offering free supplies in return for their Medicare numbers. Tell your loved one that the doctor must order and sign for all equipment and products before Medicare will pay for it. Remind your parents never to sign blank insurance claim forms, never providing unchecked medical authorization for billing purposes, always reviewing Medicare’s payment terms closely, never give out their Medicare numbers to someone they don’t know, and verifying with their physician if they are unsure of a product or equipment that’s been ordered.
8. Bypass the ‘Sucker List’ altogether.
Many seniors are eager to win something and often enter numerous sweepstakes, sign up for free magazines, or register for contests. Companies with elder fraud scam artists will keep records of these submissions, meaning your loved ones could end up on what is called the ‘Sucker List,’ making your parents that much more of an elder fraud target. This list usually contains not only people who the scammers believe to be a good target, but have already been successfully targeted before.
9. Just hang up.
Scammers know that senior citizens are more polite, more trusting, and a lot less likely to hang up when the call becomes personal; unfortunately, elder fraud con artists take full advantage of this fact. Tell your loved one that if he or she doesn’t know the caller and questions regarding financial or personal matters come up, they can simply hang up on the caller with no questions asked. Hanging up is one of the simplest senior citizen fraud protection methods.
10. Be Proactive…
Another invaluable senior citizen fraud protection tool is helping your loved one sign up for the national ‘do not call’ registry to prevent harassing telemarketer calls. It’s a free service, and you can either call 888-382-1222 or register online at www.donotcall.gov.
Another website that offers helpful senior citizen fraud protection tips of its own - www.fraud.org/elderfraud - helps fight against con artists by posting regular updates and information. Walking your loved one through potential elder fraud scenarios is as helpful as checking in regularly to go over financial transactions, bills, and emails as well as posting (in plain sight) the senior citizen fraud protection tips outlined above.
If your loved one has been a victim of elder fraud, please urge them to report it to the proper authorities. Falling for a scam is embarrassing to many seniors, making it one of the most under reported crimes. Their assistance in the matter can help bring con artists to justice and perhaps inspire other seniors to implement better methods of senior citizen fraud protection.