People over fifty account for about half of all consumer fraud complaints, and more than a third of identity theft cases. This is according to the Federal Trade Commission. And it’s why the Cape Fear Elder Abuse Prevention Network last week gathered almost two hundred area seniors to hear what Medicare coordinators, attorneys, bankers, and postal inspectors had to say about fraud prevention. For, the Cape Fear region is among the nation’s fastest-growing when it comes to Baby Boomers,
Financial scammers’ most effective weapons include friendship, their abilities to pose as church-going, civic-minded citizens—and “helpful” natures. So says Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who notes that post-recessionary white-collar criminals tend to leave younger generations alone--as they’re typically saddled with debt—and instead focus on gaining the trust of those most likely to have assets and investment funds: seniors.
"And so, anywhere you have a growing population of people—a growing population of people who are perceived to have money—it is that magnet for those crooks to come to try to separate the people from their money."
Jonathan David, District Attorney for Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus Counties, adds that it’s difficult to prosecute—and therefore deter—these crooks, as North Carolina’s overburdened justice system prioritizes violent criminal cases. He says state sentencing guidelines are structured such that financial crime cases don’t warrant much prison time for first-time offenders.
"You know, I think what we’re going to see in the legislature, is they’re going to be putting enhanced and increased penalties for people that create large-scale loss, or people that target unusually vulnerable classes of victims—like the elderly. And that’s something we’re advocating for."
David says the most important thing today’s seniors can do is become aware of their surroundings and relationships, avoid isolation, and become as physically healthy as possible. He adds that medical and financial documents should be reviewed by registered attorneys and financial advisers.
***Tips for Protecting Yourself From Elder Abuse:
- Make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order. If they aren’t, enlist professional help to get them in order, with the assistance of a trusted friend or relative if necessary.
- Keep in touch with family and friends and avoid becoming isolated.
- If you are unhappy with the care you’re receiving, whether it’s in your own home or in a care facility, speak up. Tell someone you trust and ask that person to report the abuse, neglect, or substandard care to an elder abuse helpline or long-term care ombudsman, or make the call yourself.