When it comes to frauds and scams, one of the most commonly victimized groups is the senior population. It is sad to think that older adults who have spent a lifetime working to save for retirement are at risk to lose their savings to fraud or scam artists but, unfortunately, it is a very present danger. In this post, we will take a few minutes to understand why this part of the population is at risk, some of the specific scams that target older adults, and what we can do as home care providers to help reduce the risks.
As a home caregiver, you might be your client's first line of defense against senior fraud and scams. With proper diligence, you can go a long way in preventing seniors from becoming victims. While caregivers are not allowed to discuss personal information or give advice to their senior client, they are required to be extremely competent in elder abuse. The sacred role of a home caregiver is to be a "mandated reporter" by California law. Remember, it is not a caregiver's role to investigate or set traps, but it is a caregiver's job to report anything that seems amiss. Reputable home care agencies will be up to date on the current laws around elder abuse and home caregivers should feel like they can report to their home care agency if they discover any problems.
Why are seniors targeted?
When planning to run a scam, criminals often pick the most vulnerable targets. The senior population is at a high risk due to several factors associated with aging. While the specifics of any individual case may vary, there are several common factors that are cited by experts.
Older adults tend to be more trusting and have trouble processing the visual cues that often help younger people avoid in-person frauds and scams. For example, a 2012 NPR article pointed out that a study by UCLA psychologist, Shelley Taylor, had determined seniors had a marked deterioration in the ability to recognize the physical cues of an untrustworthy individual.
Seniors often experience health issues that affect the decision making process. The onset of dementia or other illnesses may lead these adults to trust fraudulent claims offered by criminals.
Seniors are more likely to put themselves in high risk situations by opening junk mail and talking to salespeople and telemarketers. Whether it's loneliness or the lure of financial gain, the senior population is 13% more likely to entertain offers from sales, investment or prize related scams than the general population.
As a home caregiver, it is easy to see that frauds and scams are a very lucrative business for criminals and it helps to understand some of the major scams that are currently in use and how you can protect your senior clients from these dangers.
There are three main scam and fraud groupings that we will look at for this discussion: Online, Telephone and Junk Mail, and In-Person Cons. Some criminals may use two or more of these tactics combined to further influence a target so it is vital to understand the dangers to seniors.
Online Senior Scams
It is understandable that seniors in the home caregiving environment don't always understand Internet safety. For many of them, the Internet was a luxury they added into their lives at the request of children or grandchildren who lived outside of the local area as a way of communicating.
Unfortunately, many of these seniors are in danger of losing their financial security by falling victim to a criminal who may impersonate a loved one, offer romance, or tempt them with investment and prize redemption opportunities. With the Internet being a global system that provides many layers of anonymity, these criminal can be extremely difficult to track and prosecute for their crimes so the victim count continues to increase. In some cases, these criminals may even sell lists of their victims to a third party, allowing them to further prey on an individual who has already been victimized repeatedly.
As a home caregiver, you can provide seniors with information if they request it on how to protect themselves while they use the Internet. If they ask, you can help seniors set up spam blockers, ad blocking software, and other programs to limit the number of incoming scam and fraud offers.
Telephone and Junk Mail Scams
These scam and fraud perpetrators are very efficient operators. They tend to purchase calling lists or otherwise amass large files full of contact information for their victims. They then call or mail out offers to provide a service, such as saving money on prescriptions, or they may offer bogus investment opportunities with high returns on a low risk.
In some cases, they may claim that the victim has won a prize that requires a delivery fee for release or that the victim owes money to a government agency. Yet another variation involves the criminal contacting the victim pretending to be a loved one and claiming to need money for an emergency situation. As you can see, these criminals and their stories can be very persuasive, especially with older adults.
You can protect seniors by helping them add themselves to the Do Not Contact lists for sales calls and junk mail. All people, and seniors especially, should verify claims before they send money to an investment opportunity, a government agency, or a relative that contacted them in an unusual way.
Whether it is the guy who shows up at 4 PM on a Saturday offering to paint the house but needs half the money up front, the younger woman who suddenly took a romantic interest in your 75 year old client, or the grandchild that is asking for capital for a new business venture, there are just some scenarios that really ought to leave the home caregiver asking questions. Sadly, many of these scenarios are based on in-person cons designed to steal your clients’ valuables or personal information.
In the home caregiving environment, this type of senior scam is the easiest to prevent. Due to the fact that we see our clients on a regular basis, we tend to know if there is someone new or something amiss around the home and being watchful for the signs of senior scams is part of the job description for home caregivers.