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Elder Care Concerns



Senior citizens who become victims to e-mail scams often divulge personal information that should be kept confidential and fret over bogus notices threatening to freeze access to their bank accounts in order to block unauthorized use.

Otherwise known as "phishing," cybercriminals send out mass e-mails in the hope of catching someone who will provide information that essentially gives them the virtual key to their savings.

"They don't realize that the bank isn't going to contact them electronically," said Renee Borstad, superintendent of Burlington County Consumer Affairs. "That's the hardest part to get them to understand. They'll send a letter or use the phone."

Borstad also said that many seniors rely on their own savings rather than credit lines, so they become immediately concerned when an e-mail makes mention of a bank account. They can become more susceptible to identity theft if they answer all or most of the questions asked of them.

Seniors tend to be easier targets for scams because they are often lonely, vulnerable and unsure about whom they can trust, said Dr. Marion Somers, author of "Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion's 10 Steps To Help You Care For An Aging Loved One."

"A lot of these older people are so lonely, they'll talk to anybody. They could be selling the Brooklyn Bridge but the senior is so lonely for companionship that they'll talk to these shylocks who come across as friendly," said the Brooklyn, N.Y.,-based author.

And while seniors are growing more comfortable about sitting in front of the computer, Borstad said that cybercrime statistics show that the older crowd may be less skilled in sniffing out scams than the younger generation, which uses computer and digital technology to carry out routine tasks.

"It appears that way," said Borstad who is a senior citizen herself.

Active adults must be scrupulous consumers to avoid being taken advantage of in other ways. They face high-pressure sales tactics, excessive charges for auto repairs, gasoline, heating oil and luxury items, including computers, and sometimes must engage in lengthy battles simply to get what they paid for, according to the Burlington County Consumer Affairs Web site.

One of the biggest complaints from elderly consumers has revolved around the high cost of gas. Borstad said most complaints are unfounded but some inspections have resulted in violations being issued for inaccurate readings at the pump.

Aside from financial abuse, seniors can fall victim to physical abuse as well. Loved ones should be aware of dramatic changes in personality or demeanor, unexplained bruises and bumps, and suspicious behavior, all of which are warning signs of possible abuse or neglect, Somers said.

Also be aware of a "new" best friend who suddenly takes a great interest in a senior citizen who bestows gifts upon them and shares personal information, such as the PIN to their bank account, Somers said.

Seniors and their families also can be duped into signing legally binding documents related to estate planning, which outlines how their assets are to be handled following death.

Some companies offering estate-planning management have sent out postcards with an enticement of free breakfast.

Those who attend the breakfast give their contact information. A company representative makes a house call that can last two to four hours and wraps up with documents rolled out, ready for signing, Borstad said.

"The breakfast really isn't free," she said. "It'll cost you at some point in time. There's no free lunch. There's no free breakfast."

"The magic word . . . You have to learn to say no. Old folks have a saying: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But they don't follow their own advice," Borstad said.

And some become too embarrassed or ashamed to tell their family that they've been victimized.

When dealing with home-improvement contractors, look for a registration number on the contract and ask for a copy of certification of general liability, Borstad said.

Financial abuse is a growing crime against seniors with 2 million becoming victims each year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

According to The Edcomm Group, an education and consulting firm, here are some red flags to watch out for:

Sudden changes in bank account or banking practices by individual;

Unexplained withdrawals of large amounts of money by a senior or someone acting as power of attorney;

High credit card transactions or personal checks written to unusual recipients, such as salespersons or as "cash;"

Abrupt changes to a will or other financial or estate planning documents or transfer of assets to a family member or acquaintance without reasonable explanation;

Seniors who appear nervous when accompanied by another individual or seniors who give "far-fetched explanations" of why they need money;

When someone accompanying a senior bullies that person into making a withdrawal or does not allow the senior to speak for himself.

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