Elder abuse fraud continues to rise as a major consumer protection issue, with financial losses nationwide totaling $2.9 billion annually. Financial exploitation of the elderly often goes unreported because in many cases, it is someone closest to the victim who is the abuser.
The prevalence of this issue in Oregon is spurring multiple consumer protection groups to join forces and raise awareness. At Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific, reports on elder abuse fraud range from typical romance and IRS tax-scams, to more intricate schemes by caretakers or adult children duping victims into paying for construction that never occurs is or is unnecessary.
Carmel Snyder with AARP says reported financial abuse of elders is likely “just the tip of the iceberg in terms of total number of older adults who are defrauded or scammed out of their life savings.” Snyder adds, “this is especially insidious because older adults have very few opportunities to re-earn money.”
At the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Adult Protective Services unit receives an increase in elder financial-abuse reports every year, according to Billie McNeely with DHS.
Statistics show the nation’s senior population will continue rising until 2030. “At this time, it is estimated there will be more people, 65 and older than there will be children under 18,” McNeely said. “With 75% of the nation’s wealth being held by seniors, this places a large target on one of our most vulnerable populations.”
For children and family members of the elderly, it is important to watch for signs of financial abuse. If there is a caretaker in the home, BBB recommends that family members check in regularly and, when and where they can be vigilant about their parents’ spending. The same is true for caretakers who suspect any odd behavior by family members. Warning signs include someone trying to isolate the victim from outside friends and neighbors, or someone having dubious access to a victim’s finances.
“For seniors and their families, it is critical that they watch for signs of financial fraud, neglect, and abuse, and report any concerns to authorities,” said Steve Goldman, Assistant Special Agent, FBI Oregon.
Steele confirmed that victims 60 and older represent one of the largest demographics reporting fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and that Oregon experiences a significant amount of these complaints.
To prevent further abuse, outreach, education, and prevention efforts are the, “most powerful tools,” according to McNeely.
This includes educating both young and old about various scams targeting the elderly. One of the most common ways these victims lose money is to tax scams. “Seniors have lost thousands of dollars and their personal information to tax scams,” said Brian Wozniak, IRS Stakeholder Liaison. “The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media channels to request personal or financial information.”
Whether or not the scam is perpetrated by an outsider, or by someone close, it is critical these crimes be reported to any or all consumer protection groups. For more information, see the links and numbers below:
To report suspected abuse to DHS call: 1-855-503-SAFE (7233)
The above was a news release from the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific. The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its contents.