Scamming seniors: $40 billion & counting

After my father died at 90, my sisters and I found evidence of multiple “gifts” he had made to people we’d never heard of. My father, a retired college president whose mind was sharp to the end, was comfortable but far from wealthy. He was frugal and cautious, though generous; he would have been the last person anyone would pick to be a victim of financial abuse. But he lived alone for 20 years after my mother died, and the fact is it probably happened.

It happens to uncounted millions of Americans over the age of 50 every year, to the tune of some $2.4 billion in losses to family members and caregivers alone. AARP estimates there are $40 billion in annual losses to sweepstakes fraud and financial abuse targeting seniors. Sobering statistics, especially in light of the fact that only one in 100 cases is reported.

Shirley Krohn is on a campaign to change these statistics. Krohn, retired from a career in the corporate world, works 7-day weeks advocating, writing and speaking on senior financial abuse and related issues. Among her credentials are Board Chair of Spectrum Federal Credit Union for 35 years, member/former Board Chair/volunteer with the Elder Financial Protection Network, and member of the California Senior Legislature; her passion for the cause, though, may be stronger than her CV is long. Recently she opened a lot of eyes with a talk to the San Francisco Bay Area Network for End of Life Care.

“Elder abuse,” Krohn says, “is one of the most under-recognized and under-reported crimes in the U.S., with some five million people victimized every year – though abuse reports are up 150% in the last ten years.” It’s easy to see why: “People 50 and older control 70% of the total net worth in U.S. households.”

The victimization of seniors by friends, relatives and caregivers may be the most sobering part of the picture, and the toughest problem of all to solve. Krohn explains that the issue is complicated by seniors often being unaware that they’re being victimized, being reluctant to report or prosecute friends or relatives, or simply being embarrassed or ashamed. They may also have looming fear: that they’ll lose their independence and wind up in a nursing home, that they’ll suffer retaliation or further abuse.

Scammers and fraudsters are a huge and busy bunch. Krohn ticks off a list that includes door-to-door solicitors, telemarketers, online scammers, visiting “experts” or “advisors” and perpetrators of a variety of Medicare or prescription drug scams. Protecting yourself or your aging friends and relatives against them is not easy, but it can be done, she says. A good first step is in recognizing the problem. The second step, taking protective action, will be outlined here in a follow-up blog.

Meanwhile, Shirley Krohn has promised a follow-up talk as soon as she can work it into her schedule.

English: logo for Elder Financial Protection N...
English: logo for Elder Financial Protection Network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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