Tools to help seniors fight off money scams

The elderly are increasingly at risk but there are resources to prevent and report abuse

Published: June 20, 2015 06:00 AM

Fraud against seniors costs them and their families some $2.9 billion a year, by one estimate. The criminals, among them “charity” phone solicitors; phony IRS agents demanding tax payments; sweepstakes and lottery fraudsters and scammers duping grandparents into wiring funds abroad, often don't get caught. 

In fact, an estimated 1 in 44 cases of money scams and financial abuse of seniors is ever brought to the attention of authorities. “Victims of elder financial exploitation are forced to live out their last days in fear, worse health, indignity and often poverty,” Kathleen Quinn, executive director of the National Adult Protective Services Association, said earlier this week at the first global summit commemorating World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

There are many reasons for why they often go unreported. Among them, older people often feel ashamed to report their abuse, they may not know where to report, and they may be afraid to anger their abusers. And, noted a number of participants earlier this week at the summit in Washington, D.C., even when the crimes do get reported, the attention they get varies depending on which professionals get involved in helping, which resources are available locally, and which state and municipal laws can be used to address them. Professionals in adult protective services (APS), which serves the elderly and disabled, talked about the need for uniformity throughout the country.

"There are 50 ways to report to APS; you absolutely need something that’s one-stop-shopping,” said Joe Snyder, director of the Philadelphia Protective Services for Older Adults and a panelist at the event. 

There are new technologies that can help stop annoying robocalls. Consumers Union explains how.

How to get help

Fortunately for seniors and the people who care about them, there is recourse. At the summit, representatives from several government agencies highlighted their resources to help prevent, fight and report money scams aimed at seniors. Other demographic groups also can benefit. 

FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, sponsors a new Securities Helpline for Seniors (HELPS) to assist with their questions and concerns regarding brokerage accounts and investments.

A FINRA spokesman said that as of last week, the helpline, which started in April, had received over 540 calls, including 42 calls alleging unsuitable recommendations, 30 calls alleging misrepresentation, 15 alleging unauthorized trading, 11 alleging churning/excessive trading, seven alleging failure to execute, three alleging identify theft, and one about forgery.

"FINRA has opened 97 matters for further review internally, of which we have referred three matters to state regulators and one to the SEC through FINRA’s Office of Fraud Detection and Market Intelligence," said the spokesman, George Smaragdis.

— Tobie Stanger

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