In the United States, about five million older adults are abused, neglected or exploited each year. During the pandemic, it’s especially horrific that our seniors — who are already at much greater risk from the disease — have also been victims of pandemic-related fraud and exploitation.
This kind of financial crime can have an effect far beyond a victim’s bank balance; it is associated with a physical decline in health. A recent study of elder abuse found that victims of financial exploitation had mortality rates almost as high as those of victims of caregiver neglect.
Put simply, fraud is a serious threat to older adults’ longevity and well-being. Fraud schemes targeting older Americans are despicable crimes. Scammers have marketed fraudulent tests and exploited fear of the disease to steal information for identity theft. Stimulus check schemes and imposter contact tracers have preyed on older adults who may not have access to their usual sources of trusted information in the community.
By early 2021, over 300,000 coronavirus-related consumer complaints had been filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). And we know that older adults have been hit hardest of all. Most people who reported a fraud to the FTC had lost about $300, but adults over the age of 80 — those typically least able to absorb large financial losses — lost more than twice that amount.
There are ways to protect yourself and your loved ones. In particular, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has a National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline (866–720–5721) for reporting pandemic-related fraud. Hotline staff will obtain information regarding complaints to be reviewed by law enforcement officials.
Additionally, the DOJ National Elder Fraud Hotline (1–833–FRAUD–11), managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, provides services to all adults ages 60 and older who may be victims of financial fraud. The toll-free hotline connects victims with experienced case managers who provide personalized support, resources, and referrals to other services. They can also file reports with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the FTC on behalf of victims.
Elder fraud schemes prey on victims’ trust and ruin lives. All of us in the community have a duty to look out for and report these crimes. And we all have a voice to speak up for older victims of exploitation and financial fraud, making our elected officials aware that those most vulnerable need the community’s support now more than ever.
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If you think you are being scammed, give us a call at: 423-663-3111
Ronnie Phillips has served as Scott County Sheriff since 2014.