The numbers are staggering.
A recent survey by the Investor Protection Trust (IPT) finds that one out of every five Americans 65 years old or older - or more than 7 million people - have been the victim of a financial scam.
The Washington Post recently told the story of one of those victims, 73-year-old retired Oklahoman Jacquelyn Atchley. Jacquelyn lost $180,000 - her life's savings - to a Ponzi scheme. She was defrauded by a fellow Oklahoman, who is suspected of bilking 80 investors, many of them elderly, out of $6 million.
While we often think of financial scams involving strangers on the other end of a dinnertime phone call or phishing email, the truth is scams like these often originate from those closest to us. Family members are the most likely culprits, followed by caregivers.
Breaking down consumer scams
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office has identified some of the most common consumer scams and fraudulent schemes that strip seniors of their financial well-being and dignity.
Among them are pyramid scams, fraudulent living trusts, identity theft, health fraud, real estate fraud and staged auto collisions.
The best defense against scams is education. When you are familiar with some of the potential threats - and stories of others who have been victimized - you are more likely to keep your guard up.
The IPT has set up an Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program and says there are certain red flags to look for that indicate a senior is being taken advantage of financially:
- Social isolation. Seniors who are lonely are more likely to be preyed upon.
A loss of ability to do everyday activities, including paying bills. Family members can easily gain control of an elderly family member's finances when this happens.
- Caregivers who take money for living necessities and skim money off the bottom.
- Loss of a spouse. Grieving widows or widowers are targets for schemers who search newspaper obituaries for easy marks.
What can you do if you suspect elder abuse – financial and/or physical/verbal?
- The County of Ventura Human Services Agency provides a broad array of services that include the protection of vulnerable adults
- The California Department of Justice has published a comprehensive guide on how to prevent and report elder abuse.
- Contact Ventura County’s Financial Abuse Specialist Team for assistance.
- Local senior centers routinely offer seminars on how to prevent and report elder abuse. These seminars should be attended, not only by seniors, but by their adult children.
Where there's money to be made through scheming and scamming the elderly, there's someone willing to take it.