Seniors are often viewed as easy targets by scam artists. According to the National Institute of Justice, a study of more than 7,000 elderly individuals who were aging in place found that one in 10 reported being victim to some form of elder mistreatment. These crimes against seniors are so pervasive that senior fraud special crime units have cropped up across the country.
Seniors Most at Risk of Scams
While anyone can be the target of a scam, seniors seem to be particularly at risk, especially those who are lonely, isolated or suffering from cognitive impairment. Scammers know that these individuals are less likely to realize they have been scammed until after the damage is done and may not talk about or report the scam due to their pride, desire for independence or lack of understanding about the severity of the situation.
As a family caregiver, there are things you can do to help protect your loved one from falling victim to a scam.
Open Lines of Communication
Never be afraid to talk to your loved one about scams and the dangers they pose. Knowledge is power, and when seniors are made aware of suspicious calls or emails claiming to be from the IRS, a fake grandchild, a trusted charity or an individual who has fallen on hard times, they are more likely to keep their guard up. When providing this information, avoid lecturing. Rather, explain why these people are dangerous and often target the elderly. Also, never shame or blame your loved one, and remind them that you are always there if they need support.
Offer Financial Assistance
If your loved one is open to it, get involved in their finances. This can be tricky since it takes away some of the person’s independence and may make them question your motives behind wanting to get involved. Earn and maintain their trust. Act in an assisting capacity as opposed to completely taking over, involving your loved one to the best of their abilities and remaining open and honest at all times.
Scams do not always come in the form of an email or phone call. Seniors who own homes can become victims when they call in a contractor for general home repairs or even discuss the purchase of an insurance policy or other service in person. Whenever possible, be present when your loved one is meeting with anyone. Ask for company information, licensing information and insurance information. If the service provider will not provide it, discourage your loved one from providing bank account, social security or other personal information or making payment or signing any contract. A reputable company will not push for an on-the-spot-decision. If they insist that it is necessary to sign up for services immediately and without investigating the company, consider this a red light.
Helping Seniors Living Alone
When a senior lives alone, it is often difficult to monitor phone calls, watching for potential scams. To minimize the number of calls your loved one receives from telemarketers, add their name to the do not call list by visiting donotcall.gov or calling 888-382-1222. When spending time in your loved one’s home, take the opportunity to go through junk mail together, ask about anything that looks suspicious and talk about recent phone calls too.
In Home Caregiver Support
Hiring an in home caregiver provides your loved one with guidance when telemarketers call or ring the doorbell or suspicious mailings arrive. Ensure that the person you are hiring is qualified for the position, properly trained, supervised by an accredited agency such as Salus Homecare in San Diego and has undergone an extensive background check. Check in on your loved one while the caregiver is in the home, and consider purchasing a safe so that your loved one has the ability to lock up any important documents, financial information, valuables or heirlooms to feel more comfortable. If an in home caregiver discourages any of these things, immediately discuss your concerns with the agency.
Scams against older Americans are serious, but there are things that we can all do to keep seniors in our families and communities safe. Watch for suspicious activities, keep the lines of communication open with your loved ones and remain involved in their lives. When you cannot be there, consider hiring a reputable in home caregiver to provide support. These simple steps will make your loved one less vulnerable when thieves are looking for someone to target.
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