In our current public health crisis, we must protect the elderly from a different, also devastating threat – the financial predator. These predators will use the fear, crisis, and trust of the elderly to steal their money. It is up to us to help prevent it.
Perhaps the most powerful facilitator of financial elder abuse is physiology. As a person ages, physiological and cognitive declines reduce his or her ability to detect dishonesty, and deceit. The person becomes a target for scams, ruses, and financial exploitation. I saw it in my own father who, as he aged, bought items on-line to “protect” his computer, contributed to questionable causes, and allow hucksters access to his bank account. While we were able to thwart most of these scams some people don’t have family and friends to assist in detecting these threats.
The good new is that this increasing societal problem is driving increased public awareness, education and law – such as the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017. This act empowers the United States Department of Justice to gather and leverage better data on financial elder abuse for the sake of public education and policy development. It also disincentivises financial elder abuse by increasing penalties when deceptive crimes reference, among other things, participation in a medical study – such as testing for the COVID-19 virus.
Financial predators continually reinventing their attacks on the elderly. COVID-19 has caused fear, misinformation, and isolation from families and others who help protect seniors and their ability to recognize and avoid the financial predator. If you are worried about an older relative or friend, here are some simple steps to help protect them.
First, encourage them not to make any financial withdrawals, give credit card information, or personal information of any kind without you reviewing it. You don’t need to frighten them but do need to help them navigate finances. Ensure them that nothing has to be done immediately. There is always time for you to review it.
Second, don’t give the predator any access. Do not engage. Hang up on people you don’t know. If it’s the doctor’s office confirming your appointment, a relative or friend calling, or your order being delivered, you will know them or expecting them. If it matters, they will call back and understand. Financial predators usually don’t waste time calling back when you don’t talk to them and hang up.
Third, if a predator does establish engagement with a loved one, their next step is to convince that victim to believe a shocking falsehood. The scenarios are designed to trigger an extreme emotional response centered on hope or fear. Another clue is the need for immediate action or threat of financial ruin, legal action, or lost opportunity. All of these, regardless of age, should be done with consultation of others and careful consideration. Remember, the elderly are particularly at risk for not recognizing the warning signs.
The good new is there is increased public awareness, education and law – such as the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017. This act increases penalties when deceptive crimes reference, among other things, participation in a medical study – such as testing for the COVID-19 virus.
The key to protection is simple: hang up the phone if you don’t know the person, ask some else to review all financial decisions, trust people you trust; not strangers.
This virus has been cruel in so many ways. Beyond the obvious deaths, economic distress, and social isolation, COVID19 puts our loved ones at risk for scams and financial predators. We can keep our loved ones safe. Be the trusted friend.