June marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Month, a time to bring attention to this critical issue affecting one in six 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.