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Beware of scams targeting the elderly

Q:  Last Christmas several family members all pitched in to buy my elderly mother a top of the line laptop and printer. We thought this would be a good way for her to stay in touch with all of her grandchildren who are in college or have moved away for new jobs. She took a course at her local senior center to learn the basics to operate the programs we had installed on her computer. Not long ago I was visiting her and she said she was having a problem with her email. When I started to try and resolve the issue I found numerous emails which appeared to be a scam. I deleted all of the emails and stressed how careful she needed to be when opening emails from people she didn’t know. Is this a big problem with elders?

A:   The problem is bigger and more dangerous than you could have imagined. AARP reports individuals over the age of 65 account for one-third of all victims of scams resulting in losses of $3 billion. Recently several major television networks had a segment on testimony presented at the Justice Department relating the story of an 82-year-old woman from Texas who committed suicide after losing all of her money to a con artist. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. One elderly man in Tennessee took his life after getting involved in a Jamaican lottery scam and another elder’s suicide was directly linked to a “grandparent” scheme. Shame, embarrassment and total financial devastation overwhelmed these unfortunate victims of scams.

The Justice Department has ordered all U.S. attorneys to designate an “elder justice coordinator” for their district to focus on scams directed towards older adults. Officials have their work cut out for them. Scammers are not only hard to track down but rarely is the money recovered.

The National Council on Aging has acknowledged the serious nature of this issue and has a website listing the top 10 scams targeting elders and tips on how to protect yourself. The web address is www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security. The Federal Trade Commission also has a hotline number — 1-877-382-4357 and website to offer help to individuals.

Older adults are more susceptible to scams for numerous reasons ranging from loneliness, memory loss, declining decision making skills and reasoning ability. Many of this age group also tend to be more trusting in nature. Individuals living on a fixed income may be open to hearing about ways to make money providing them greater ability to pay their bills. Unfortunately they fall for the “too good to be true promises.”

Our hopes in addressing your question will result in a plea to all family members to initiate an open discussion with your older family members warning them to be on the alert for any contact with someone who could be attempting to scam them out of their money. The scammers use different methods in looking for victims – emails, phone calls and through the mail.

 

Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff are available for no cost consultations in the home, office or community. For additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to ageinfo@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., AgeInfo Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.