Every year, America’s senior citizens lose close to $3 billion due to financial exploitation, either from scam artists or unscrupulous caregivers.
It’s this type of abuse that led lawmakers this year to pass the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, put forward by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and signed into law by President Trump in mid-October.
The law creates tougher penalties for frauds, expands information sharing rules to prevent financial fraud targeting seniors, and expands the federal criminal code to include email marketing schemes.
“Exploiting and defrauding seniors is cowardly, and these crimes should be addressed as the reprehensible acts they are,” Grassley, himself a senior citizen, said earlier this year.
When you work as an elder law attorney, you see people who have fallen victim to these sorts of crimes all too often. And while stronger penalties are no doubt a good thing, there are things you can do to prevent your loved ones from falling victim to financial elder abuse:
- Be careful when picking caregivers and guardians
- Keep an inventory of their valuables
- Invest in a shredder, and teach the senior in your life how to use it
- Keep an eye on incoming and outgoing mail
- Get their credit score each year, and review credit card and bank statements each month
- Make sure they never answer any call that doesn’t show up on caller ID
- If there are contractors working on the house, ask to see their license
- Talk to seniors so they know what kind of suspicious behavior to watch out for. If you suspect a scam, contact the police or an elder law attorney.
- Finally, take an active role in their lives. You’ll have a better chance of spotting scams and the warning signs of abuse.
Scams to watch out for
Some common scams that target senior citizens include:
- Medicare/insurance scams
Someone posing as a Medicare representative will contact a senior citizen and offer fake services to get personal information, allowing them to bill Medicare for bogus medical services.
- Counterfeit drugs and anti-aging products
These are typically sold online at low prices, and may resemble the real thing, but will either be – at best – unhelpful or worse, harmful to the user’s health.
- Internet-related fraud
These are usually pop-up windows that trick victims into downloading anti-virus programs that are really a virus, followed by a demand for money in exchange for removing the virus. In other cases, seniors will get an email that appears to be from a company they’re familiar with asking them to update or verify their personal information.
- Funeral scams
Scammers will contact a recent widow/widower and claim their loved one had an outstanding debt. And some funeral scams may not involve outright scam artists: funeral homes may add unnecessary charges or upsell costlier services.
- Phony investments and reverse mortgages
Reverse mortgage ads are a staple of daytime TV, but this is something different. It’s a scam that comes in the form of a request from the “County Assessor” to reassess the value of a home…for a small fee.
And investment scams are familiar to anyone who’s gotten an email from the “Finance Minister of Nigeria,” claiming a chance to access a fortune in exchange for banking info.
- The “Grandma” scam
This one is particularly insidious: A caller contacts a senior citizen and says “Grandma, do you know who this is?”
Once the grandmother – or grandfather – guesses a name, the caller agrees and tells the senior they’re in some sort of jam — broken down car, emergency medical expense – and asks them to send money through Western Union.
If you or a loved one has fallen victim to one of these scams – or any other sort of elder abuse, an elder law attorney can help you fight for your rights.
The team at Newman Elder Law has years of experience in helping our clients protect their hard-earned assets. Contact us today to learn more.