Image from Road to Elder Justice Art Gallery, Adult Protective Services, State of Florida
When you think of elder abuse it may bring to mind physical altercations. But elder abuse takes many forms. From actual physical contact, to neglect (physical and emotional) or financial abuse, there is no shortage of people who prey on the most vulnerable. Financial abuse alone is a multi-billion dollar business. With the elderly population growing worldwide, these problems are predicted to only worsen. It is understandable to see why elder abuse is such a huge problem.
June 15 has been declared World Elder Abuse Day by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), a government organization that supports elder initiatives. In conjunction with the ACL, the University of Southern California sponsors programs to help the elderly avoid abuse. Here are some facts about elder abuse provided by these organizations:
• 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 experiences abuse that lasts up to a year.
• Nearly 1 in 2 elderly with dementia have been abused.
• Financial exploitation is estimated at 50 billion dollars a year.
• Elder abuse victims are twice as likely to need hospitalization compared to those who are not abused. They are also at risk of dying.
• Abuse survivors suffer higher levels of psychological distress than non-victims.
In 1996 a company called Alliance for Mature Americans was charged with scamming thousands of elderlies out of money by selling bogus annuities and living trusts. What made the scam successful is the company used typical selling strategies that legitimate companies use every day. Namely, the salesmen used tactics that built trust among the victims. The company stole 200 million dollars from 10,000 California residents. How were the victims supposed to see through the lies? Unfortunately, most didn’t.
What can the average citizen do to control abusive situations that place the elderly at risk? Prevention is the best way to avoid being a victim. Most sources focus on family members or caregivers as the first line of defense in protecting the senior. Of course, that makes perfect sense. Once an elderly person becomes susceptible to deceitful people, the damage may already be done. It is logical to rely on loved ones to be on the lookout for scams and stop them. But what about each elderly person? Wouldn’t it be beneficial if each elderly person learned simple ways to avoid becoming a victim?
Every person over the age of 60 should learn basic principles that will help protect them from scammers. You don’t know at what point your memory or judgment will start to decline. The scammers are always ready for the next prey and are looking for a weakness. Have a plan in place before you become someone’s target. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself:
• Stay involved with family, friends, and activities that keep you social. Isolated seniors are exactly what the scammers are searching for.
• Do not answer the phone unless you recognize the number. If the caller is legitimate, they will leave a message.
• Tell a trusted friend or family member if you are approached by a scammer.
• If you do have early dementia or cognitive decline, make arrangements with a friend or family member to check on you regularly.
• Do not allow a substance abuser to move into your home, even if that person is a family member. That’s the first step toward separating you from your money.
• Do not open emails from sources you don’t recognize.
• Be suspicious of online romances. If they say they love you soon after making contact, shower you with praise and lavish comments about your looks or personality, be wary!
• If you attend a seminar specifically geared toward seniors, tell yourself you are going for the knowledge. Do not buy anything, do not commit to anything, and do not sign anything that day. If the company is legitimate, you can always get back with them once you have done your research.
Before you think “It can’t happen to me”, think about the thousands of seniors who were scammed by the Alliance company. Even though that company was caught, there are still thousands of businesses targeting the senior market. Those businesses know that seniors have buying power. A skilled scammer can convince most people to let go of their money. The trick is to always be alert, be skeptical and keep your guard up. And ask yourself “Is this legitimate, or is this person trying to get my money?”
https://ncea.acl.gov/ National Center on Elder Abuse
https://eldermistreatment.usc.edu/publications/using-latent-class-analysis-to-identify-profiles-of-elder-abuse-perpetrators/ Full article available on PubMed June 14, 2019.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6282684/ Review of an actual company that scammed seniors.
https://eldermistreatment.usc.edu/weaad-home/gallery/ Site of Road to Elder Justice