Preventing elder financial abuse: Six tips to make seniors a tougher target
June 30, 2017
"Fraud happens to everyone from youngest to oldest, and to people of all backgrounds. Today we are going to talk about making elders a tougher target... Just like you and I head into work on Monday morning, full-time scammers head to their warehouse each Monday, too," said Detective Leamon "Lee" Davis of the Orange County Sheriff's Office at the 11th Annual Education and Prevention Symposium held on Friday, June 16, in acknowlegement of World Elder- Abuse Day. Sally Kopke of Vitas Healthcare welcomed the crowd of almost 200 nurses, caregivers, professionals on aging, and social workers to the event, appropriately titled "Breaking the Silence of Elder Abuse" sponsored by AARP, the Orange County Government, 50 Plus FYI Resource Network, and Vitas Healthcare.
Mimi Reggentin, program manager of the Orange County Office on Aging, shared that event organizers and partners wanted to start off the day with some real- life stories of elder-abuse, of which "there are way too many." She introduced Detective Davis to participants, noting that the Orange County Department on Aging had created a fraud prevention booklet in partnership with the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
Throughout the 6-hour symposium, experts in law enforcement, elder law, and senior health-care shared valuable tips on protecting seniors from a variety of elder-abuse scams. As vulnerable members of society, elders can benefit from the following scam-prevention tips:
• Protect your personal information. Detective Davis warned that we should all be very careful with whom we share our date of birth, social security numbers, and "PINS." Remember to use "inside voices" at the pharmacy when asked our date of birth and address to pick up our prescriptions.
• Do you know where your wallet or purse is right now? Detective Davis recommended keeping these items on your person at all times to remove the possibility of crimes of opportunity.
• Do not answer a phone call (whether home or cell) if you are not familiar with the number. A Seminole County area policewoman commented that she never answers unknown numbers; if the call is important, a message will be left.
• Verify. Verify. Verify. Many of us have received phone calls from our credit card company's fraud department. Typically, the caller asks if you have made purchases that deviate from your usual buying patterns or geographical locations. (For example, you live in Florida, but a purchase was made at a grocery store in Montana). Recently, Emily Newman of the Orlando Senior Help Desk (www.orlandoseniorhelpdesk.org) received a similar call. She verified a recent purchase with the caller, but when asked for additional information, she chose to call the customer service number on the back of her credit card to verify the caller. Newman said that she never gives out personal information without verifying the identity of the caller or asking to speak to a supervisor.
• Hang it up! Pedro Portuondo of the Senior Resource Alliance's Elder Prevention Program (www.sraflorida.org) noted that it is perfectly "okay" to hang up on a caller. If you are targeted by an unwanted sales call or an unknown caller, simply cut them off. While it may be "their job" to keep you on the phone, it is "your job" to safeguard yourself and your valuables.
• Keep up on the latest scams. Seniors vs. Crime (www.seniorsvscrime.com) is a special project of the Florida Attorney General. This organization, as well as area police (including the office of Detective Davis), are willing to come out to talk to senior groups about crime prevention. (Contact Detective Leamon "Lee" Davis at the Orange County Sheriff's Office, Economic Crimes Unit at 407-254-7000 X 70612)
A "popular" scam is the kidnapped or "stuck" relative (often a grandchild) who needs thousands of dollars in ransom money, or funds to get home from a far-away place. If you receive a call like this, think twice before you give your credit card information to a voice on the phone. Ask yourself, "Is my grandchild even out of the country?" If tempted to respond, verify the information with parents or friends first. Then, report the situation to local law enforcement.
Wire money only as a last resort. Wires can be hard to trace and impossible to retrieve once sent. This advice applies to readers of all ages. Recently, a Longwood teenager was approached by a potential employer who sent her a $5,000 check (as an advance); and then requested $1,000 be wired to a third party. While the teenager wanted to be a good employee and follow the request, the situation "just didn't feel right." The teen reached out to her parents, who were able to reverse the transfer of funds in the nick of time. Local police confirmed the scam.
Just as we advocate for our young people; it is important that we be extra vigilant and share our knowledge and protect our elders from exploitation, financial and otherwise. No matter the age group, if a situation "just doesn't feel right," it's time to reach out to a trusted source for help.