Experts: Scams targeting the elderly a growing trend



Recorder Staff
Published: 7/20/2016 10:37:54 PM

According to LifePath, formerly Franklin County Home Care, elders throughout the United States lose an estimated minimum of $2.9 billion annually due to financial exploitation, which makes up 10 to 15 percent of the reports LifePath receives. And that number is steadily growing.

Linda Puzan, the clinical services coordinator and elder protective services regional director for LifePath, says research suggests elder abuse, neglect and exploitation is under-identified and under-reported — and as few as one in 14 cased come to the attention of authorities.

Puzan says elder financial exploitation is defined as the non-accidental act by another person without the informed consent of the elder to access their money. It results in substantial monetary or property loss to the elder, or substantial monetary or property gain to the perpetrator. Puzan says warning signs of financial exploitation include spending behavior that seems out of character for the elder, abrupt or unexplained transfer of assets, or new “friends” in the elder’s life who are not promoting the elder’s best interests.

According to Puzan, elders victimized by financial exploitation as well as other forms of abuse are most often perpetrated by their own family members or someone in their lives that they trust. But there is also a threat of strangers setting up scams or fishing for financial information over the phone.

Tracy Gaudet, the director of the Orange Council on Aging, says she hears daily about cases of residents 55 or older getting calls from someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service or a police agency and demanding money. She said many elders oblige and some even set up a monthly payment schedule. Gaudet says she recently visited an elders’ home and noticed the woman was mailing away about $30 a month because she was told she could “win a prize” if she did.

“It’s almost epidemic here,” Gaudet says. “I think it’s because the elderly trust people. They trust that they’re telling them the truth, when in fact they’re not. … Every day, it’s someone new. It really saddens me.”

She says eight months ago, one of her clients was scammed for $900 “she will never, ever see again.”

Gaudet tells a story of a confrontational man who claimed to work for Microsoft kept trying to get information from the COA’s secretary.

According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Services, there were 24,978 elder abuse reports received in Fiscal Year 2015. There were also 7,117 newly confirmed allegations of elder abuse. The website state these numbers represent a 37 percent and 57 percent increases, respectively.

The website contains a wealth of information help elders and their loved ones avoid getting swindled. Elder abuse of any sort can be reported to the statewide Elder Abuse Hotline, 1-800-922-2275, which operates 24 hours a day. Once an elder abuse report is received, a trained Protective Services caseworker is assigned to investigate the allegations.

Al Norman, executive director of Mass Home Care, a statewide network of nonprofits aimed at helping elderly people enjoy life in the least restrictive setting possible, said scams against golden-agers are commonplace.

“It happens all the time, unfortunately,” he says. “It ranges from very sophisticated financial scams … right down to just small scams people get by phone, by internet.”

Norman says LifePath is one of the member agencies he works with and in 1991 the organization set up a free money management program that pairs elders with volunteer financial managers to monitor finances and screen financial scams.

Gaudet says the best way to reduce fraud of the elderly is to keep people educated and informed.

“I think we just need to make a stance not to give out any information over the telephone, no matter who we are or who is calling. Most programs that I work with will contact people by mail and that’s what I tell clients — do not ever give out information over the phone,” she says in her office in the Orange Armory/Orange Senior Center at 135 East Main St. “If they really need to contact you, ask them to send you something in the mail, that you can read or sign or whatever or come in (to the senior center) and we’ll help you.”

Gaudet she has worked with approximately 400 senior citizens since joining the Orange COA in 2008. She also says she knows of elderly people so generous with their money they have to rely on public assistance to get by.

Puzan suggests the elderly can become vulnerable for a variety of factors, including dementia or failing memory, social isolation, or poor physical health. She says there is no single way to protect elders from fraud and theft, but there are important precautions to take. She says if you are concerned about the finances of a senior citizen in your life, try to have more than one person reviewing their financial information. Also, talk about finances with third-party resources such as family, friends and financial professionals.

Puzan recommends keeping in regular contact with elders and stressing the importance of never giving out one’s birth date, Social Security number, bank account information or passwords to a stranger over the phone. She says “sweepstakes scams” are becoming major issues, as scam artists will mail people an official-looking letter requesting fees or banking information in order to claim their “winnings.” But legitimate sweepstakes do not ask for money from winners.

Another popular scam involves convincing an older person their grandchild is in grave danger and in need of money. Grandparents are encouraged to call family members to determine if someone in truly in peril. It is also worth noting that the IRS does not call people if they have a problem with tax information and real charities will give you time to consider whether to donate.

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