Programs and Tools to Protect Seniors from Financial Exploitation

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

In June, I attended an event in Washington, DC for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The focus was on financial exploitation, with a number of presentations and individuals addressing this growing problem. Seniors and their families lose nearly $3 billion a year to a number of different scams that can involve phony charities, people representing themselves as IRS agents demanding tax payments, sweepstakes fraud, and scammers pretending to be grandchildren asking grandparents to wire funds because they are in jail in a foreign country.

It is estimated 1 in 44 cases of money scams and financial abuse of seniors is actually ever brought to the attention of authorities. It is extremely difficult to catch these criminals because the majority are overseas. But these cases often go unreported because people are ashamed or they are being threatened by the scammer and they fear for their safety and the safety of their loved ones.

Knowledge is power when working to protect your income and assets. There are a number of resources and programs available to older adults and their family members that not only educate people about the scams, but also offer tools that can provide some protection. Consumerreports.org in a recent Scam Alert lists these resources you can check out.

1) The Federal Trade Commission’s “Pass It On,” http://www.ftc.gov, focuses on six scams that individuals should learn about and inform others about as well.

2) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans website has information for seniors and a link to help report complaints or concerns. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offers four different guides for attorneys, government-appointed fiduciaries, guardians, and trustees, called “Managing Someone Else’s Money” which can be ordered at no cost on their website, http://www.cfpb.gov.

3) The Securities and Exchange Commission, has a number of brochures, including “A Guide for Seniors: Protect Yourself Against Investment Fraud,” and “Stopping Affinity Fraud in Your Community,” focusing on money scams that prey on members of identifiable groups such as religious organizations available from their website, http://www.sec.gov

4) The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sponsor a program called “Money Smart for Older Adults: Prevent Financial Exploitation,” which is an instructor-led training curriculum for older adults and their caregivers.

5) FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, has a dedicated helpline for seniors to assist with their questions and concerns regarding brokerage accounts and investments. It is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Central Time, 1-844-574-3577. Open since April, they have received over 540 calls.

The best defense is a good offense. Take the time to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to understand how financial exploitation occurs. Education is the only way we can truly put an end to this problem as the scammers are getting better and we need to be prepared. If you would to schedule a group presentation from the BBB Education Foundation staff on scams and fraudulent business practices, call me at 713-341-6184.

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