When most people hear the term “elder abuse” they usually imagine physical or emotional neglect or abuse, but in fact, financial exploitation and abuse impacts our seniors at an even greater rate. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s National Center on Elder Abuse major financial exploitation was self-reported at higher rates than self-reported rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect. In fact, senior citizens are the most vulnerable to consumer fraud and financial exploitation scams. Older Americans are often targeted by scammers and fraudsters because they are seen as being accessible, generous, trusting, isolated and wealthy. According to former Colorado Attorney General, John Suthers, telemarketing fraud is a $40 billion industry, with one third, or $15 billion a year, lost by seniors.
One of the most common financial elder abuse telemarketing or phone scams targeting older Coloradans is the grandparent scam. This occurs when a young person calls the potential victim pretending to be a grandchild. The caller claims they are in some kind of immediate trouble (i.e., in a foreign country and have been arrested for drunk driving or detained for some reason) and they need money sent to them in order to return home safely. The caller will often demand that money be sent through Western Union or other wire service. Coloradans are also warned to be wary of any caller claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, Medicare Department, or other government agencies asking for your Social Security number or other personal information. These scammers often go so far as to use a Washington, D.C. area code to trick their unsuspecting victims.
“It’s so important for people to stop, take a moment to think about what they’re doing,” says Amy Nozfiger, Colorado regional director of the AARP’s ElderWatch program.
Follow these helpful tips from the AARP and Colorado Attorney General to keep our seniors safe:
- Don’t be afraid to hang up the phone and never provide personal information such as a social security number, date of birth, bank account information, or credit card numbers.
- Be wary if the caller asks you to wire money or purchase a pre-paid payment card and never agree to payment in advance without a written offer that you can verify for authenticity.
- If the caller pretends to be a grandchild, ask them for personal information, such as the name of their siblings, to describe their parents, or to talk about the last time you spent with them. If they seem hurried and refuse to answer, or answer incorrectly, this is a red flag.
- Report scams to local law enforcement, the local district attorney’s office or the attorney general’s office regardless of how small or insignificant the encounter may seem.
- When in doubt, investigate the company with your local Better Business Bureau before providing any personal information or payments.
If you suspect that you or someone you love is the victim of elder financial abuse or neglect, immediately contact an experienced Colorado elder abuse lawyer to discuss your situation and help you get the justice you deserve.