June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a time to bring attention to this critical issue affecting 1 in 6 elders worldwide. Elder abuse can include physical, emotional, sexual, caregiver neglect, self-neglect, and financial exploitation. It impacts seniors from all walks of life.

According to Shelly Sevinor, protective services quality improvement specialist and community liaison for Mystic Valley Elder Services (MVES), “Elder abuse is a very complex issue. It’s important because it’s common. And it can happen to anyone.”

Sevinor points out that the financial exploitation of elders is at an all-time high. Many scammers think of elders as prime targets because they may live alone and have retirement savings or own a home. They may assume their crimes against seniors will go unreported. Many schemes against elders are conducted by phone or over email, or sometimes even through door-to-door solicitation. They may come in the form of credit card offers, charitable donation requests, investment opportunities, sweepstakes, home improvement offers, wire and banking transfers, health and wellness products, Amazon scams, computer pop-ups, and insurance offers.

All too often, scammers access seniors’ personal information online and leverage it to exploit them financially. For example, an older adult posts to her Facebook page that her grandson has been accepted to a specific college or university. A scammer accesses her phone number online and calls to seek a donation to the school’s alumni association. Once the senior gives her personal information including credit card number and billing address, the scammer can then make other fraudulent charges.

According to AARP, sweetheart scams (also referred to as romance scams) cause a heavy financial toll on men and women age 60 and older. These cons are similar to other scams except that these scammers are providing their purported affection in an attempt to get the victim’s money. In today’s world of online dating and social media, these scams have increased as perpetrators leverage the anonymity of the Internet to target victims. Once the perpetrator gets a senior’s money, he or she often disappears, leaving the senior feeling taken advantage of and ashamed.

While seniors may be targeted over the phone or online by scammers, Sevinor points out that MVES regularly sees cases of family members financially exploiting their loved ones. In other words, it’s not always a stranger taking advantage of a senior. “An adult child may be managing Mom’s finances and begin drawing on her mother’s money when she loses her job,” Sevinor shares. Oftentimes elders are less likely to report cases of financial exploitation when it involves a child, grandchild or other relative.

MVES plays a proactive role in addressing elder abuse by not only investigating cases but by proactively offering education and trainings in the 11 communities served. “We have developed a strong rapport with mandated reporters of elder abuse such as police officers and hospitals,” says Sevinor. “We also educate seniors themselves by offering seminars and resources. Our goal is to build awareness while enabling seniors to remain safe and independent living in the community.”

If you suspect elder abuse of a loved one or are being abused yourself, please call the state’s Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-922-2275 or file online at https://www.mass.gov/how-to/report-elder-abuse


What You Can Do to Avoid a Scam

Block unwanted calls and text messages. Take steps to block unwanted calls and to filter unwanted text messages.

Don’t give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn’t expect. Legitimate organizations won’t call, email, or text to ask for your personal information, like your social security number, bank account, or credit card numbers.

If you get an email or text message from a company you do business with and you think it’s real, it’s still best not to click on any links. Don’t call a number they gave you or the number from your caller ID.

Resist the pressure to act immediately. Legitimate businesses will give you time to make a decision. Anyone who pressures you to pay or give them your personal information is a scammer.

Know how scammers tell you to pay. Never pay someone who insists you pay with a gift card or by using a money transfer service. And never deposit a check and send money back to someone.

Stop and talk to someone you trust. Before you do anything else, tell someone — a friend, a family member, a neighbor — what happened. Talking about it could help you realize it’s a scam.

Source: Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

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