Experts: More Seniors Being Targeted For Scams

CHICAGO (CBS) — They’re supposed to be the golden years, but in these bad economic times more and more seniors are instead being victimized – ripped off by people they trust.

Of the more than 10,000 reported elder abuse cases in the state, more than half of them are financial. Yet the actual number is believed to be far higher and on the rise.

As CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports, it’s a crime that’s believed to be way under-reported.

It’s usually because the seniors feel ashamed and embarrassed. Even their own family members will often say, “How could you fall for that?”

One man who talked to CBS 2 took in a homeless couple, but wound up jeopardizing his own financial stability.

“It made me feel kind of dumb for taking a chance on someone,” he said.

The 87-year-old man didn’t want to be identified, because he’s afraid of being targeted by con artists again.

“It’s a sad day in a person’s life when you’re helping a person and they rip you off at the same time,” he said.

It could be a credit card you can’t find anywhere, or a check for cash you don’t remember writing. For this man, the first sign he was being scammed was when his belongings started to disappear.

“In this economy, everyone wants a piece of something. If the senior has $1 or $1,000, someone wants to take it,” said Joyce Gallagher, the executive director of Chicago’s Department on Aging.

Gallagher said a new law in Illinois calls for bank tellers to receive special training to help spot possible financial abuse.

“What we would really like is mandatory reporting of bank employees, but we’ll take this first step,” Gallagher said. “In fact, dog groomers are mandated reporters, but bank employees are not.”

Concerned friends helped this man to evict the people who were scamming him and he hopes his story will help other seniors take steps to protect themselves.

“Go with your suspicions. If they’re feeling uneasy with these people, don’t have them in your house. It’s not going to get better believe me,” he said.

So what do you do if you suspect someone is being taken advantage of? You can call 311.

Advocates can’t say enough for the friends and neighbors who do. In fact they gave a special shout out to mail carriers, who are some of the biggest reporters.

There’s also an advocacy office at the Domestic Violence Court downtown, where seniors are greeted at the door.

Here are some warning signs of elder financial abuse, according to the Elder Financial Protection Network:

• Unexplained bank withdrawals
• Unauthorized use of a credit or ATM card
• Stolen or “misplaced” cards or checkbook
• Checks written to cash, loan or gift
• Abrupt changes in a will or other documents
• Unexplained transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family
• Disappearance of valuables

And here are ways to protect yourself:

• Limit the power of attorney
• Get to know your banker they can look out for suspicious activity related to your account
• Avoid becoming isolated and stay in contact with neighbors, family and friends
• Don’t sign anything you don’t understand
• Don’t sign blank checks that would allow another person to fill in the amounts
• Pay with checks or credit cards to keep a paper trail
• Don’t allow anyone you hire to have access to information about your finances.

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