The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members~ Gandhi
In January of 2017 81-year-old Catherine Wicker was killed outside of her apartment complex in Raleigh by an assailant who tried to take her purse. Wicker resisted and was knocked to the ground.
Here is how the official police statement described what happened next:
“The suspect got back into his vehicle, backed up and rammed the victim’s vehicle in an apparent effort to hit the citizen. The suspect then pulled forward and struck Wicker, briefly pinning her against another vehicle. The victim fell under the car and was dragged for several feet. The suspect rammed another vehicle, backed over the victim and fled the lot.”
The shame of it all is that Catherine Wicker was at the apartment complex that day visiting her disabled son.
This past June, in upper Manhattan a 19-year old thug used brutally beat a 90-year old man with a cane, apparently just for fun.
And in August, 83-year-old Eddie Walker was shot to death during a carjacking in the driveway of his South Memphis home. The killer was a 21-year-old man whose only interest was Walker’s 2005 Ford Taurus.
Just this week, in normally peaceful Murfreesboro, TN—an 85-year old woman was raped at gunpoint in broad daylight—right in her own garage.
A recent paper published in the International Criminal Justice Review shows that the elderly mistakenly perceive their home and immediate surroundings to be a safe space, but reality proves this to be quite the opposite.
According to national crime statistics, most crimes against the elderly—especially the violent ones, happen in or close to home.
• A groundbreaking study based in New York estimated that 260,000 (1 in 13) older adults in the state of New York had been victims of at least one form of elder abuse in the preceding year.
Sadly, these perpetrators are most likely to be related in some way to their victims—adult children or spouses. They are more likely to be male, to have history of past or current substance abuse, to have mental or physical health problems, to have history of trouble with the police, to be socially isolated, to be unemployed or have financial problems, and to be experiencing some sort of major stress in their lives.
In the study, family members were the most common perpetrators of financial exploitation of older adults (57.9%), followed by friends and neighbors (16.9%), followed by home care aides (14.9%).
Just last month, in Irving Texas, Leisa Ann Coco, a self-described freelance homecare nurse kidnapped, beat and stabbed the 85-year-old wife of a patient she has previously worked for, in an attempted robbery. The frightening part— Coco still has a valid nursing license in the state of Texas.
And in October, 91-year-old Waldiman Thompson was murdered in front of his 100-year old wife, as the couple laid hogtied on the floor of the couple’s Brooklyn, New York home. The killers, the couple’s trusted home health aide, 46-year-old home Suzette Troutman and her 27-year-old nephew ransacked the couples apartment while poor Mr. Thompsom died.
You hear me talk about the perils of hiring freelance homecare workers off of internet websites and apps, or off flyers in the food store or as recommended by friends and neighbors. This is why. Without constant, professional supervision, recurring background checks and drug testing, provided by licensed, reputable home health agencies frail elderly are easy prey.
But the problem does not just exist in the home with unscrupulous and spurious freelance homecare workers, Nursing homes and Long-term care facilities are also potential hotbeds for abuse.
A 2010 study found that 47% of participants with dementia had been mistreated by their caregivers. Of them, 88.5% experienced psychological abuse, 19.7% experienced physical abuse, and 29.5% experienced neglect.
In 2014, the number of nursing home residents was approximately 1.4 million and the number of residents in residential care communities was close to 1 million.
Concern about elder abuse in nursing homes first came to widespread public attention in the 1970s, when facilities were relatively unregulated and had little oversight.
Government oversight doesn’t help much…
A study conducted by the U.S. General Accountability Office showed that state surveys understate problems in licensed facilities: 70% of state surveys miss at least one deficiency and 15% of surveys miss actual harm and immediate jeopardy of a nursing home resident.
Abuse of older residents by other residents in long-term care facilities is now recognized as a problem that is more common than physical abuse by staff.
As children of aging parents we need to be on the lookout for our parent’s safety and welfare.
As a Gerontologist and Eldercare consultant my patients welfare and safety is my top priority.
Families who can’t be there all the time hire me to be their eyes and ears and professional advocate. But even those who are close by work with me because I know what to look for.
I’ve been dealing with safety risks in eldercare for over 30 years and I’ve seen more than my share of situations that keep you up all night wondering what kind of societal short circuiting could cause us to treat our elders in some of the ways we do.
I know the warning signs too well, and after you listen to Episode 34 of Parents Are Hard To Raise you will too.
So, why do predators prey on the Elderly?
• Senior citizens are most likely to have a financial nest egg, to own their home, and to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
• People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
• The elderly are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed.
Elderly victims may not report crimes because they are concerned that we (their children) may think they no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
• When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists exploit the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators.
In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the perpetrator. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
• Elderly are more interested in and susceptible to bogus, snake-oil type products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on.
Sure, hucksters peddling “miracle cures” have been around forever. But, think about it… we’re living in times of unprecedented scientific advancement, and that fact tends to skew our perception of what is possible. In our modern world where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every human being hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can actually do what they claim. Couple that with our natural human cravings for agelessness and immortality and it’s not that hard to see why “health” scams are among the most favored in the world today, and why with each passing year we all become more vulnerable to their devices.
There’s no shortage of predators waiting in the shadows to take advantage of our aging parents in ways designed to bilk them out of their hard-earned savings.
I’ve cobbled together a list the top 8 financial scams currently being used to target our aging parents. Of course there are more, and they are changing all the time, but these seem to be the hot ones in use at the moment. Study the list and please share it with your friends—both those you know well and those on social media—who might have vulnerable parents, friends or relatives they care about. Knowledge is power and can help keep those we love safer.
The top 8 Current Financial Scams targeting the elderly and Children of Aging Parents
1. Medicare/health insurance scams
Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, so there is rarely any need for a scam artist to research what private health insurance company older people have in order to scam them out of some money.
In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
2. Counterfeit prescription drugs
Most commonly, counterfeit drug scams operate on the Internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications. This scam is growing in popularity. The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a person’s medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm. This scam can be as hard on the body as it is on the wallet.
3. Funeral & cemetery scams
The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors.
In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.
Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of funeral services, is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket.
4. Telemarketing/phone scams
Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on the elderly, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. While the image of the lonely senior citizen with nobody to talk to may have something to do with this, it’s more likely that older people are just more familiar with shopping over the phone, and therefore might not be fully aware of the risk.
With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.
Examples of telemarketing fraud include:
The pigeon drop
The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found or inherited a large sum of money, but has to pay some sort of fee—say a tax payment— before they can claim it, and is willing to split the money if the elderly person will help them make the tax payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger.
The fake accident ploy
The con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money.
Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.
5. Internet fraud
While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ubiquitous on the web and email programs. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user’s computer to scammers.
Their unfamiliarity with the less visible aspects of browsing the web (firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example) make seniors especially susceptible to such traps. One example includes:
A senior receives email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information. A senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund.
6. Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams
Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many elderly people own their homes, a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value of a certain scam.
A particularly elaborate property tax scam in San Diego saw criminals sending personalized letters to elderly homeowners apparently on behalf of the County Assessor’s Office.
The letter, made to look official but displaying only public information, would identify the property’s assessed value and offer the homeowner, for a fee of course, to arrange for a reassessment of the property’s value and therefore the tax burden associated with it.
Closely related, there is the potential for a reverse mortgage borrower to be scammed. Scammers can take advantage of older adults who have recently unlocked equity in their homes. Those considering reverse mortgages should be wary of people in their lives pressuring them to obtain a reverse mortgage, or those that stand to benefit from the borrower accessing equity, such as home repair companies who approach the older adult directly.
7. Sweepstakes & lottery scams
Here, scammers inform the elderly person that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. In this scam, seniors will often be sent a check in the amount of the supposed sweepstakes winnings that they can deposit in their bank account. The scammers count on the interbank float time – the amount of time it takes to clear a deposited check, which is usually a few days—knowing that while check shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the it is rejected for insufficient funds. During that time, the criminals will quickly collect cash for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces.
8. The grandparent scam
The grandparent scam is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts.
Scammers will place a call to an older person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.
Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”
While the sums from such a scam are likely to be in the hundreds, the very fact that no research is needed makes this a scam that can be perpetrated over and over at very little cost to the scammer.
Elder abuse is on the rise worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 6 elderly people will be victims of abuse and neglect. That means 141 million will become victims this coming year alone.
What’s more, the dangers will likely only get worse as the elderly population grows. By 2050 the number of elderly people will double to reach 2 billion globally. If the proportion of elder abuse victims remains constant, the number of people affected will grow to 320 million victims by 2050.
So as we continue to search for solutions to the scourge of crime in our community, including gang warfare and domestic violence, let’s not forget the elderly. They are the real innocent victims. And they’ve earned the right to be free from predators.
Other Online Resources:
National Adult Protective Services network
Senate Special Committee on Aging Hotline:
If your aging parent has been victim of fraud, contact them at 1-855-303-9470
National Council on Aging