Aging Americans are the disproportionate targets of international fraud schemes. Americans lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year to these scams. Too often, the criminals defraud an elderly victim of her life savings. One must ask why this may continue. Who is caring for our aging population?
The U. S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is involved in multiple efforts to curb the financial abuse of the elderly. Scammers dupe seniors into sending them money through fake inheritances, family emergencies, business opportunities, employment, and romance rackets. Federal authorities have arrested people in Hong Kong, China, Argentina and Spain for swindling American seniors and using them as unwitting drug couriers.
In some illegal schemes, con artists impersonate government officials, such as IRS agents, and demand that the victim wire payment or be arrested. Telemarketers and fake lotteries defraud Americans of millions of dollars. The DHS is actively pursuing these charlatans.
States work to protect the elderly
The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) in your state must protect citizens from harm. Many AGOs have a special unit that focuses on issues pertaining to the aging population. AGOs will investigate and prosecute elder abuse in elder care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and residential care facilities.
Your county prosecuting attorney or district attorney may be another source of help. As public awareness of the attack on aging Americans increases, more counties have created special task forces to help elders.
How to protect yourself
Federal, state and local governments are working diligently to protect the elderly, but seniors also must be proactive about their safety. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) offers these tips on how to protect yourself from rogues who would take your money:
- Trust no one. You are at risk from strangers, and those closest to you.
- Stay involved in your community. Isolation makes you vulnerable to abuse.
- Do not buy from a door-to-door or telephone solicitor. It is even better if you do not open the door for strangers, and do not answer the phone, if you do not recognize the number. You can always call back, after you verify that the caller is someone you know.
- Guard your credit cards. Never give your credit card number to anyone over the phone. Shred all receipts that include your card number.
- Prevent telephone and mail fraud. Sign up on the Do Not Call list to stop telemarketer calls. Do not put your outgoing mail in your mailbox. Instead, mail it at the post office. Check your credit report regularly for unusual activity or inaccurate accounts.
- Keep money out of the mailbox. Receive your benefits checks by direct deposit rather than as a paper check.
- Protect your personal information. This includes your Medicare number, date of birth, Social Security number, credit card and financial account numbers.
- Call a lifeline. Before making a major purchase or investment, do your homework. Seek the advice of several trusted friends or relatives. Look up companies online. Check with the Better Business Bureau.
AARP recommends that you eliminate junk mail by putting your address on the Direct Marketing Associate’s opt-out list. Enlist your adult children to help you avoid scammers. Working together as a team, you can defeat these unsavory characters.
To learn about the laws that protect seniors in your state, talk with a local elder law attorney.
Kiplinger. “Beware Fraudsters When You Go Online.” (accessed July 19, 2017) http://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T048-C000-S004-beware-fraudsters-when-you-go-online.html?rid=EML
AARP. “Protect Your Parents From Scams.” (accessed July 19, 2017) http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-08-2013/protect-your-parents-from-scams.html
National Council on Aging. “8 Tips for How Seniors Can Protect Themselves From Money Scams.” (accessed July 19, 2017) https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/protection-from-scams/
State of California, Department of Justice. “Protecting Children & Seniors.” (accessed July 19, 2017) https://oag.ca.gov/children-seniors
Department of Homeland Security. “Written testimony of ICE Homeland Security Investigations Acting Assistant Director for Investigative Programs Alan Scott Brown for a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing regarding scams targeting the elderly.” (accessed July 19, 2017) https://www.dhs.gov/news/2016/02/10/written-testimony-ice-senate-special-committee-aging-hearing-regading-scams