by Pat McNees (updated 8-06-19)
Gathered here are links to helpful articles about the many kinds of abuse elders may be subject to (including physical, sexual, and financial abuse) and steps they can take to avoid fraud and scams. Sadly, their abusers may be friends, family, caregivers, and professional advisors. Do your homework and protect yourself and those you care about. Click on: Elder fraud and abuse, generally ***Housing and financial fraud ***Home improvement scams ***Telemarketing and phone fraud, including IRS scams ***ATM and tax fraud and identity theft ***Elder abuse *** Fraud, abuse, neglect in elder guardianship system ***Where to monitor credit reports, check a charity's status ***Where to file a complaint if you've been scammed, defrauded, hacked, abused, cheated, etc.
• Fraud Watch Network (AARP). Fraud Watch Hotline: 1-877-908-3360
• Helping Banks Flag Fraud Against Seniors (Elizabeth Olson, NY Times, 8-18-18) Why it is important for front-line bank employees to identify red flags early. A proposal in Maine: "Encourage state officials to start a pilot program that would train bank employees to recognize suspicious activity, like sudden large transfers, in exchange for greater protection from legal liability for reporting it." The act is too new to have a national track record, but in Maine, Ms. Shaw said that since 2014, reports to her office about seniors being exploited financially jumped to a total of 70 — from zero.
• Elder abuse commonly committed by relatives, study indicates (Liz Seegert, Covering Health, AHCJ, 8-23-19) "Relatives, not strangers, may be the people most likely to take advantage of older adults, according to a new study by University of Southern California researchers. Their analysis found that family members were allegedly most likely at fault across all abuse types, except for sexual abuse and self-neglect....Of the nearly 2,000 calls logged for the study, more than 42% (818 calls) alleged abuse. Financial abuse was the most commonly reported at nearly 55% (449 calls). The most common abuse perpetrated by the family was financial abuse (61.8%), followed by emotional abuse (35%), neglect (20.1%), physical abuse (12%) and sexual abuse (0.3%). Of the calls that alleged abuse by a family member, more than 32% reported more than one abuse type."
• The Ultimate Internet Safety Guide for Seniors (Safety Detectives) See also their Known Vulnerabilities Scanner.
• How Many Times Has Your Personal Information Been Exposed to Hackers? ( K.K. Rebecca Lai, Nicole Perlroth, Tiffany Hsu, and Josh Keller, NY Times, 5-29-15) Note that this article was in 2015 so some hacking incidents won't be reported here. But you can follow the advice, anyway.
• Caring for Aging Parents, With an Eye on the Broker Handling Their Savings (Tara Siegel Bernard, NY Times, 8-24-18) How one woman discovered excessive and unauthorized trading in a fund meant to support her mother and father in their later years.
• A Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding, Recognizing, and Preventing Elder Abuse (Maryville University Online)
• FTC report on fraud (infographic) (Consumer Sentinel Network, Data Book 2017, Federal Trade Commission) 2.7 million reports--top 3 categories: Debt collection, identity theft, and imposter scams. "Younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. But when people aged 70+ had a loss, the median loss was higher." 1 in 5 people lost money in impostor scams. Credit card fraud was up. Tax fraud was down. "As customers age, they become a prime target for fraud, experts say, because they can have a lifetime of savings sitting in their accounts. More than 60 percent of bank customers are older than 50, and they hold 70 percent of deposit balances..."
• CFPB Issues Advisory and Report for Financial Institutions on Preventing Elder Financial Abuse (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 3-23-16) One in Five Older Americans Report Being Victims of Financial Exploitation. Recommendations for financial institutions to consider include:
Training staff to recognize abuse
Using fraud detection technologies
Offering age-friendly services
Reporting suspicious activity to authorities
Tips for consumers on how to work with their financial institutions to protect themselves from financial abuse can be found at Older Americans are not alone in the fight to stop financial abuse (Stacy Canan and Naomi Karp, CFPB, 3-13-16)
• Why Have Our Parents Become Targets for Financial Abuse? (Robert Mauterstock, HuffPost,10-5-15) Scam artists go where the money is. Forty-four percent of all wealth in America lies with older Americans.
• Keeping Our Seniors Safe From Scams (Heather R. Chubb, ElderCareMatters.com). Popular scams for elders include surveys (they do NOT have to fill them out--they can toss them!) and letters or emails about sweepstakes and lottery winners.
• Fight Back Against Scams in Your State (AARP's Fraud Watch Network). Sign up for alerts.
• The Hidden Nature of Elder Abuse (Justice Clearinghouse)
• Guard Your Medical ID (Sid Kirchheimer, AARP, 6-29-14, on CareGivers America) With medical identity theft, crooks use your insurance or personal information to get treatment or medication, or to submit false billings in your name. Don't carry your Social Security card -- carry a copy, and black out a couple of the numbers.
• How to avoid and detect Elder Fraud: A guide for older people, carers and relatives (Jon Watson, Comparitech, 8-2-17)
• Financial Abuse of the Elderly: Sometimes Unnoticed, Always Predatory (Elizabeth Olson, NY Times, 11-27-15) Mariana Cooper, a widow in Seattle who lost her home and now lives in a retirement community, is one of an estimated five million older American residents annually who are victimized to some extent by a caregiver, friend, family member, lawyer or financial adviser.
• Common Fraud Schemes That Target Senior Citizens. This FBI site describe es important variations on fraud and scams involving health care, health insurance, counterfeit prescription drugs, funeral and cemetery arrangements, anti-aging products, investment schemes, and reverse mortgages. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations.)
• StopFraud.gov (The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force's advice on how to protect yourself from health/medicare fraud, identity theft, phone and Internet fraud, mortgage and lending fraud, securities and investment fraud, tax fraud, and other dangers)
• To discourage sales calls, fraudulent and otherwise:
---National Do Not Call Registry
---Opt Out of Unsolicited Mail, Telemarketing, and Email (Federal Trade Commission
• AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook (PDF). 13 ways con artists steal your money.
• How Stories Deceive by Maria Konnikova, a fascinating (long) story in the New Yorker, makes it clear how we can be conned by a good storyteller. "When we’re immersed in a story, we let down our guard. We focus in a way we wouldn’t if someone were just trying to catch us with a random phrase or picture or interaction....In those moments of fully immersed attention, we may absorb things, under the radar, that would normally pass us by or put us on high alert. Later, we may find ourselves thinking that some idea or concept is coming from our own brilliant, fertile minds, when, in reality, it was planted there by the story we just heard or read." From the book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time by Maria Konnikova
• Seattle man gets prison for using power of attorney to steal mom's estate (Connie Thompson, KomoNews.com, 3-24-17) John Hanni 'pleaded guilty to stealing more than $600,000 from his mother, MaryAnn Hanni, who suffered from acute dementia. She had no way of understanding the son she put in charge of her money was a thief. "He basically went through all of her accounts and cashed them in and spent them." said Ann Hanni, one of John's seven adult siblings...Instead of using his mother's money to pay for her dementia care at the Bayview Manor nursing facility in Seattle, investigators say John Hanni used the money for himself -- gambling most of it away at local casinos. Court records show the exploitation went on for eight years.'
• Aging Panel Looks into Debit Card Scams (PDF, Herb Weiss, Pawtucket Times, 11-21-14) "“Two debit card companies – Green Dot and InComm-- told members of the Senate Aging panel of the decision to drop products favored by fraudsters, even though the products had legitimate uses. Although the third company, Blackhawk, did not drop products, it tightened up its security measures on its similar reloadable debit card product.”
• Money Smart for Older Adults (download free PDF, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)
• Planning for Diminished Capacity and Illness (download free PDF, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Securities and Exchange Commission)
• Frank Abagnale Will Catch You If You Scam (Hugh Delehanty, AARP Bulletin, May 2016) Useful tips on how to avoid being scammed or ripped off: Shred everything with a micro-shedder from which information could be used to raid your bank or other account (e.g., bills, receipts, bank statements); use credit bureau services that let you know if someone is trying to use your credit; don't use a straight-on photo of yourself on social media; never post your full date of birth or where you were born as those are two keys to open your identity.
• Stop Theft From Elders: A Checklist to Age-Proof a Home Against Theft This is on the helpful website of elder law attorney Paula McCann: On the Way to Dying See also How to Stop Thefts from Elders and the Dead. "Preventing thefts and recovering assets stolen from vulnerable adults, elders and the dead has been the focus of my elder law practice for the past decade."
• Home Is Where the Fraud Is by David Dayen, on Longreads. The true story of how a group of ordinary Americans took on the nation’s banks at the height of the housing crisis, calling into question fraudulent foreclosure practices. A long excerpt from Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud by David Dayan.
"Chain of Title is a sweeping work of investigative journalism that traces the arc of a criminally underreported story in America, the collapse of the rule of law in the home mortgage industry. By following three victims of illegal foreclosure practices, Dayen humanizes and brilliantly illuminates a vast scam unseen by the public because it’s been indecipherable to everyone but a few industrious housing lawyers—as he shows, even judges don’t understand it. The nightmare scavenger-hunt pursued by homeowners like Lisa Epstein leads to a horror-ending: behind the dream of home ownership lies a lawless jungle, owned and operated by banks, where there are no rules to protect families and their property."
—Matt Taibbi, author of The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
• Fraudsters’ Latest Target: The Already Defrauded (Ann Carns, Your Money, NY Times, 2-12-16) So-called asset-recovery firms target people who have lost money in another type of fraud — often, a bogus work-at-home scheme or a fake time share investment, according to an advisory issued this week by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
• New breed of investor profits by financing surgeries for desperate women patients (Alison Frankel and Jessica Dye, Reuters Investigates, 8-18-15) In the little known world of medical lending, financiers invest in operations to remove pelvic implants from women suing device makers - and reap an inflated share of the payouts when cases settle.
• 1 in 5 Seniors Has Fallen Prey to a Financial Swindle, But This Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg (Martha T.S. Laham, HuffPost, 8-11-15)
• Home Improvement Scams: Tools to Reduce Your Risk (EldercareLocator) Strategies scam artists often employ include:
---Using high-pressure tactics to sell a range of services including roof, sidewalk and driveway repairs
---Charging inflated prices
---Delivering sub-standard work
---Posing as a building inspector or other official so they can demand immediate repairs
---Obtaining funds to pay for services by urging the homeowner to work with a certain lender or advising them to get a reverse mortgage
---Identifying potential victims by scouting out neighborhoods ((most notably after natural disasters), then targeting vulnerable older adult homeowners
• Reverse Mortgages, Pro and Con (links to several articles from experts and consumer protection bureaus)
• Home Improvement Scams Alert (National Consumer Law Center) After a case study, talks about deceptive sales tactics, deceptive financing schemes, problems with contracted work, mortgages and liens (when a senior's home may be at stake); the seniors ability to cancel a contract by giving written notice; warranties; unfair practices; third party lenders. Offers Home Improvement Contractor Litigation Tips. .
• Home Improvement Contractors: A Model State Statute (attorneys Elizabeth Renuart and Rich DuBois, National Consumer Law Center, a project of the AARP Strategic Activity on Financial Protection)
• Fraud Against Seniors The FBI’s Common Fraud Schemes webpage provides tips on how you can protect yourself and your family from fraud. An excellent explanation of why elders are more vulnerable to exploitation by fraud schemes. (They're more likely to have a nest egg, they've probably been trained to be polite, they aren't usually good witnesses in a trial, and "are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim."
• Telemarketing Fraud (FBI again) "If you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations."
• Phone Scams Continue to be a Serious Threat, Remain on IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2016 Filing SeasonThe IRS will never:
---Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
---Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
---Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
---Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
---Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
• That is NOT the IRS Calling You! (Michelle Singletary, WaPo, 8-25-16)
• I.R.S. Calling to Demand Cash? Don’t Pay Up. Hang Up. (David Segal, Wash Post, 2-28-16) About 900,000 people have reported getting a call from I.R.S. phone scammers, and not all of these people hung up unscathed. The IRS will NEVER call you to demand money. Just hang up.
• Different Types of Identity Theft (Michael Osakwe, NextAdvisor, 1-10-17) Financial, banking, medical, social media, criminal -- five types of identity theft, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you fall victim.
• 7 quick tasks to protect your ID (Karen Haywood Queen, CreditCards.com, 1-7-16) Got 10 minutes? Then you can take a step to prevent identity theft
• Identity theft and the top 12 tax scams of 2013 (Peter O'Dowd, Marketplace Morning Report 5-15-13)
• Consumer information on identity theft (what to do and types of identity theft to specify)
• "10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft," scroll down for this, on this Scottrade page: Secure Online Investing & Identity Theft Protection
• Smart Tips for Protecting Yourself from ATM Fraud and Theft (Scottrade)
• “She Stole My Life!”: A Cautionary True Tale About Identity Theft Everyone Must Read (Doug Shadel, AARP on Reader's Digest, Oct.-Nov. 2014) "A few miles away, Alice Lipski was taking over Anderson’s identity. She signed Anderson up for a credit-monitoring service that was designed to protect customers from identity theft. Instead, it exposed her full credit history. The report revealed a mother lode of old accounts; over her life, Anderson had acquired dozens of cards from stores and banks. Most were inactive. Lipski reported those as lost or stolen, so the companies assigned new numbers with new usernames, passwords, and security questions that only Lipski knew, locking Anderson out of the accounts. “I knew everything about her,” Lipski says. “And what I didn’t know, I changed to what I wanted it to be.” She ordered Anderson’s mail forwarded to Lipski’s boyfriend’s house, then to a post office box. Since Anderson still received junk mail, it took weeks for her to notice that checks and bills had stopped coming."
• Where to get started when you suspect you have a problem with identity theft (IdentityTheft.gov, Federal Trade Commission)
• Elder Abuse (GAO Fact Sheet)
• Elder Abuse and Neglect Spotting the warning signs and getting help.
• Dehydration in Nursing Home Patients (ConsumerDangers.com)
• Reporting Nursing Home Abuse (ConsumerDangers.com)
• Growing Kind of Elder Abuse: Marrying Seniors for Their Money (Cathy Cassata, Healthline, 9-15-15) Lack of legal repercussions puts seniors at risk of marriage scams, experts say. And it’s happening more often.
• Romance Scams. Among other stories about this old way to scam lonely people: 'Are You Real?' — Inside an Online Dating Scam (Doug Shadel and David Dudley, AARP, June/July 2015). A Nigerian con man steals one woman's heart — and $300,000. Here's how it happened.
• Elder Abuse – A National Tragedy (Ashley Carson Cottingham, Compassion & Choices). A rarely discussed form of elder abuse occurs when an older adult’s expressed wishes at the end of life are ignored, and as a result they are subjected to unwanted and invasive medical treatment.
• State Resources (National Center on Elder Abuse, NCEA) Click on the state or territory on this map to see a directory listing of state reporting numbers, government agencies, state laws, state-specific data and statistics, and other resources.
• Eldercare Locator (click on topic, including elder abuse prevention, and type in zip code)
• Elder Abuse Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
• Understanding Elder Abuse (CDC)
• Elder Abuse: Definitions
• Statistics on elder abuse (National Center on Elder Abuse, NCEA) The size of the problem, relation to dementia, who are the perpetrators, abuse of those with disabilities, abuse in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, impact of elder abuse)
• Elder Mistreatment: Priorities for Consideration by the White House Conference on Aging (Karl Pillemer, Marie-Therese Connolly, Risa Breckman, Nathan Spreng, and Mark S. Lachs, The Gerontologist, 2014)
• Doctors, lawyers and even the bank can help identify elder abuse (Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News, Bangor Daily News, 11-17-15) Elder abuse, which can take the form of sexual or emotional abuse, physical violence and even financial manipulation, affects at least 10 percent of older Americans, according to a review article in the Nov. 12 New England Journal of Medicine. Elder abuse can happen to residents in nursing homes or those living with family members. The “young old” are more likely to be affected.
• When Love Hurts: The Heartbreak of Elder Abuse (Robert B. Blancato, Huff Post, 2-11-14) According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, one-third of abused children will eventually abuse their children. Many social service agencies attempt to educate victims of child abuse in order to stop the cycle of violence. However, one part of this cycle that is often overlooked is the role of the abused child as a caregiver for his or her abusive parent in the later years of life.
• "License to Steal" From Seniors: How to Protect the Elderly from the People They've Chosen to Trust (Business Week 5-31-06) Eighty-seven-year-old Elizabeth suspected something was awry when her son told her she couldn't afford to move into an upscale assisted living facility. A few years before, she had given her son durable power of attorney... Elizabeth knew she had the money, and when she questioned him about the shortage of funds, he just told her she was wrong. Elizabeth, wary of her son's response, told a friend who contacted Pennsylvania's Adult Protective Services (APS). An investigation by the agency revealed that her son had transferred $225,000 from her account into his own.... 80,000 such cases were reported the previous year, and more than two-thirds of the victims were defrauded by someone close to them.
• The Kindness of Strangers . Barbara Peters Smith's three-part investigative series for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune exposing tragic gaps in Florida’s system of senior guardianships (called conservatorships in other states). Florida’s elder guardianship system was set up to protect vulnerable citizens from fraud, abuse or neglect. But critics say the system often ignores individual rights, virtually imprisoning some elders who are not incapacitated. And most guardianship decisions are made in hearings and files closed to the public. (And Florida is one of the good states!)
---Part 1: Elder guardianship: A well-oiled machine Florida's system of guardianship for helpless elders — easily set in motion, but notoriously difficult to stop — often ignores basic individual rights.
--- Part 2: Elder Guardianship: Between a rock and a hard place
---Update: Bunny and Claflin Garst A bitter court battle ended with a paid professional guardian in charge of her husband’s finances and his private life.
---Guardian put ex-husband in "rat's nest". Florida’s underfunded elder guardianship system subsists mostly on the assets of its thousands of wards.
---Elder guardianship: Listening to the elders Linda-Kaye Bous insists she does not belong in the assisted-living facility for dementia patients where her guardian has placed her, yet she does not have the right to go home
---Linda-Kaye Bous, 66, talks about life in a facility for dementia patients.
---Update: Claudine and Thomas O'Connor. The couple met late in life, married and had an apparently idyllic existence on Longboat Key until their failing memories embroiled them in separate guardianships — in the midst of a feud between the offspring of their first marriages.
---Elder Guardianship: Where to learn more
---The elder guardianship system in Florida (PDF, graphic depiction of how it works, a little slow loading)
• Studies suggest elder abuse in Chinese American communities needs deeper exploration (Liz Seegert, Covering Health, AHCJ, 9-5-19) Not enough is being done to prevent elder abuse in the Chinese American community, according to several recent Rutgers University studies. Child abuse, intimate partner violence, negative social support, and isolation from family can be potential predictors of elder abuse, including psychological and physical mistreatment, caregiver neglect, and financial exploitation.
• Abuse of Power: Exploitation of Older Americans by Guardians and Others they Trust (PDF, Testimony of Pamela B. Teaster Before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, 4-18-18) Teaster recommended the following reforms of the system:
Greater clarity and training when persons assume the role of guardian ad litem, and of guardians themselves;
Deeper consideration of appropriateness and scope of appointment;
Meaningful insertion of person-centeredness and supported decision making;
Reasonable, appropriate, and timely monitoring post establishment;
Constant consideration of the restoration of rights;
Zero tolerance for the pockets of collusion and corruption that exist around this country among actors in the system.
“Despite estimates that some 1.5 million adults are under guardianship, in 2018, not one single state in the country can identify its people under guardianship — incomprehensible in the information age,” Teaster said. “That makes it impossible to have an appropriate level of accountability. Mechanisms put in place in order to establish it, to documents its execution, and to facilitate its revocation are impeded by not knowing the very people it serves.”
• Probe shows court-appointed guardians often not screened or monitored (Jen Christensen, CNN, 10-27-10)
• Sites recommended to check a charity's status include
---Charity Watch ,
---Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance
• Monitor credit reports often to watch for fraud. This is a reputable site for requesting a free annual credit card: AnnualCreditReport.com.
• If you don't want to receive pre-screened offers of credit and insurance, you can opt out of receiving them for five years or opt out of receiving them permanently here, online (https:.//www.optoutprescreen.com/, or, if you don't have access to the Internet, you may send a written request to permanently opt out to each of the major consumer reporting companies. Make sure your request includes your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth.
P.O. Box 919
Allen, TX 75013
Name Removal Option
P.O. Box 505
Woodlyn, PA 19094
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374
Innovis Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 495
Pittsburgh, PA 15230
---U.S. Federal Trade Commission or 877.FTC.HELP
---Better Business Bureau https://www.bbb.org/
---Call for Action http://callforaction.org/
---Locate your state attorney general (National Association of Attorneys General) http://www.naag.org/
---Locate your state consumer protection agency https://www.usa.gov/state-consumer
---Financial Fraud Enforcement Hotline https://www.stopfraud.gov/report.html
---How to Get Legal Assistance (National Consumer Law Center)
• Hacked and Hijacked: What to Do if Your E-mail Account Gets Compromised (Jon Chase, Switched, 2-24-11). Preventive advice includes this: "Set up at least two new e-mail addresses. Use your original e-mail address for personal or business communication as you'd normally do. The secondary e-mail address is insurance against future hacks; use it to communicate with your service provider, since many now ask for an alternative address as added protection. Then, use a third e-mail address only for registering for sites, newsletters, online shopping and other services. It may seem paranoid and excessive (hey, that's us!), but the idea is to compartmentalize your online life a bit. That way, each "world" has its own discrete e-mail account, and will minimize the damage that can be done by any future hacks."