It’s no secret that older adults are among the favorite targets of scam artists and bogus fundraisers. In some circumstances, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities may even bear some risk for protecting residents’ finances. So what can long-term care and senior living operators do to help residents and their families protect their loved ones from the sly strategies of such criminals?
Older people are not necessarily more gullible than younger people, but they are very susceptible to fast-talking telemarketers who will deliberately try to confuse them and prey on their willingness to trust a stranger, noted a recent NPR story. Residents with cognitive decline can also be tricked into donating to a bogus cause more than once, or donating far more than they intended to.
WHO'S ON THE PHONE?
One of the communication technologies dearest to older adults is also one of the best weapons for scammers—the telephone. In one of the most notorious scam stings of 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) busted a sophisticated ring of telemarketers who impersonated government and bank officials, tricking seniors into paying for fake pharmacy benefits, legal protection and—of all things—fraud protection. Tens of thousands of seniors were duped in the scheme from 2011–2013, a scam that exceeded $20 million, the FTC reported.
The ease of today’s electronic and phone-based credit card transactions is both a help and a danger for older adults. Seniors who fall for a scheme once will tend to be "flagged" by scammers and targeted repeatedly, Doug Shadel, a fraud expert with AARP's Fraud Watch, told NPR: "Once you participate in one of these things, even if you only send in $3, you're really signaling to the con artists that you're someone who participates in this, compared to the majority of people who do not," he says.
Why scammers target seniors
The Federal Bureau of Investigation explains why older adults tend to make prime targets for con artists. Today’s seniors (who grew up in the 1930s, '40s and '50s) tend to:
• Have "nest eggs" and excellent credit
• Have certain trusts and politenesses of their eras, making them hesitant to be cynical or rude with callers
• Have a lesser tendency to report being a fraud victim, often out of shame or fear that relatives will consider them inept at financial dealings
• Be "poor witnesses" to fraud crimes compared to younger people, often not realizing they’ve been swindled and/or unable to recall specific details about the con artists
• Be especially susceptible to schemes involving health, pharmaceuticals, "miracle products" and "ailment cures"
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senior fraud targets
Some new products have emerged that families can use to shield residents from financial fraudsters and keep their credit transactions within safe limits—while still allowing them to retain a sense of independence in their buying choices. Here are a few:
TrueLink – This prepaid debit card is designed for older adults. A simple portal allows family members to monitor, customize or block specific kinds of transactions and request alerts when the card is used at specific stores or for certain transaction categories. For example, the debit card can be set up to allow mail-order purchases, but to trigger an alert if money is donated to a charity, and to block charges at gambling institutions.
Eversafe – This watchdog service uses intelligent tracking to monitor a person’s bank accounts, credit and investments for suspicious activity. Unlike other fraud protection services, it’s designed specifically for seniors and the types of transactions that often target them. Assigned family members can receive notifications if something seems suspicious, and can monitor the transaction activity on a daily basis and catch them right away, instead of waiting for monthly bank statements.
Senior living organizations can do residents a great service by holding an open information session to explain to residents and their families some of the ways fast-talking fraudsters can abuse a senior’s trust. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network offers free watchdog alerts to stay informed of the latest predation scams, and provides valuable educational resources to guide a session on helping seniors stay savvy, including the most common schemes that prey on older adults.