June is Elder Abuse Month. “Elder Financial Abuse” is the second in a series of articles co-sponsored by Tehama County Adult Protective Services (APS) and the Daily News in an effort to bring awareness to senior and dependent-adult abuse. Elder financial exploitation is widespread, expensive and at times, even deadly. Elders are at a higher risk of abuse if they live alone, are isolated from their communities, rely on others for care, or have limited social relationships. The effects of abuse are devastating; loss of trust in others, loss of security, depression, feelings of fear, shame, guilt, self-doubt, remorse, worthlessness and a sense of being violated.
What measures can you take to prevent financial fraud?
Talk about your finances. The Allianz Life Study, Safeguarding Our Seniors, found that those who talk about their finances to third-party resources, such as friends, family, and financial professionals, felt better equipped to prevent elder financial abuse than those who don’t. When possible, use checks and credit cards instead of cash. Exercise caution when providing your financial or other personal information over the phone or Internet. Always ask for more information in writing. Get a second opinion from a trusted source before changing your power of attorney, wills, trusts, etc.
Scams have common distinguishing factors:
A Hook: something to attract you and cause you to pay less attention to the details.
Manipulation: scammers manipulate people into trusting them.
A Deadline: if a solicitation has a strict deadline that gives you little time to make a decision, it is likely a scam.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to gain access to your credit, bank accounts, medical care, or other aspects of your finances.
Notifications that you’ve won a sweepstake are often scams. Scammers use a name which sounds like a government agency or an official-sounding entity. As the “winner” of a sweepstake, if you are asked to pay taxes and fees by sending a check or wiring money, this is likely a scam. The scammer may ask for your banking information to direct deposit your “winnings.” This is an attempt to steal your identity, and access the money in your account, not deposit money. Legitimate sweepstakes do not ask for money upfront from winners.
Grandparent Scams: A caller claims to be the elder’s grandchild by saying something like “Grandma, it’s me…please don’t tell my parents.” The caller will say that they are out of town and in desperate need of money either to make bail, pay hospital bills, or to come home. Scammers sometimes use actual relatives’ names and information taken from social media and internet sites. If you receive a call asking for help, speak to your family. Find out if your grandchildren are actually out of town and in need of assistance.
Charities: Scammers might slightly change the name of a well-known charity to trick elders and pressure them to give on the spot. Legitimate charities will give you time to make a decision.
Rule of thumb: Play it smart. Never give any personal information to strangers over the telephone. Always withhold your birth date, Social Security number (even the last four digits), bank information, or anything that might be used as a password or other identifier.
If you have been victim of a scam, don’t be ashamed. Recognize that scams are prevalent and what happened to you could happen to anyone. Tell your story. It is often our silence that perpetuates a cycle of abuse. Working together, we can make our community a safer place for seniors, for dependent adults, for everyone.
For more information the resources listed below may be contacted by phone or via internet:
California Dept. of Consumer Affairs in Sacramento, 1-800-952-5210, educates consumers by giving them the information they need to avoid unscrupulous or unqualified people who promote deceptive or unsafe services.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Older Americans, 1-855-411-2372, was founded to protect the financial interests of older Americans.
Contractors State License Board, 1-800-321-2752, to investigate questionable practices such as home-repair scams.
Do Not Call Registry: 1-888-382-1222, to prevent calls from unwanted phone solicitors
Federal Trade Commission (FTC): 1-877-382-4357. The FTC protects consumers from unfair and fraudulent business practices, identity theft, phone scams, cybercrimes and more. Visit their website for more information.
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), US Dept. of the Treasury, 1-800-767-2825
National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), 1-202-370-6292, safeguards the financial system from illicit use and combat money laundering and promote national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence and strategic use of financial authorities.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Investor Information and Complaints, 1-800-732-0330
Tehama County District Attorney, 530-527-3053, investigates and prosecutes a wide variety of crimes.
Western Union fraud hotline, 1-800-448-1492, investigates money-transfer scams.
To report suspected elder financial abuse or dependent-adult abuse in the community, call Adult Protective Services at 530-527-1911, after hours, 1-800-323-7711.
To report suspected financial abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility, contact your local ombudsman, in Tehama County, 530-898-6628.
Author, Dan Berry, Adult Services social worker for Tehama County Department of Social Services, can be reached at 527-1911.