Financial exploitation is defined as the unlawful or improper use of an older adult’s money, property, or assets for personal gain. This exploitation, commonly done through fraud and scams, is the most common form of elder abuse in the United States.

Older adults lose billions of dollars each year because of this widespread problem. They usually live alone or with someone other than a spouse or partner — 90 percent of these cases are committed by family members or individuals that the person trusts.

When fraud occurs, older adults find it difficult to recover and can suffer from depression, anxiety, and sleeping disorders. They also experience shame, embarrassment, betrayal, helplessness, and anger.

Common scams: Lending and property fraud are two common types of elder fraud. These include payday and title loans and fraud that violates a legal or ethical bond of trust, such as power of attorney or investments. However, one of the most common types of fraud is imposter scams. Imposter scams use snail mail or digital technology, such as email, text messages, or phones. A person pretends to be someone else to obtain personal or financial information.

Coronavirus scams: Often in these scams, individuals claim to have cures or treatments for COVID-19. For example, they claim to have testing strips and air filters that can remove the virus from the air.

Scammers may also pretend to be a healthcare provider or hospital conducting contact tracing. In this situation, they notify an individual that they have been exposed to the virus.

They then advise them to click on a link or to download a form. The link or attachment, when clicked, downloads malware onto the device. This allows the scammer to access personal and financial information.

Stimulus scams: In stimulus-related scams, people may pretend to be government representatives, a bank, or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They often say they can help an individual get their stimulus money quicker. They may also indicate the need to verify data by obtaining personal or financial information.

Faith-based scams: Scammers may pose as religious leaders asking for contributions. These scammers often try to trick congregants into sending money by establishing a fake email account to request the money from a person.

Census scams: With 2020 being a census year, there are sure to be people working with census-related scams. Individuals in these cases may pretend to work for the Census Bureau and ask questions that allow them to steal personal or financial information.

Medicare Scams: When it comes to older adult-related scams, fraudsters often claim to be Medicare or Social Security representatives. They often pretend to need personal information to update someone’s personal file (banking information) or simply their Medicare identification number.

How to avoid them

Although tactics may differ, scammers attempt to instill fear, insist that elders act immediately, or require funds to be sent via wire transfer or downloaded onto prepaid cards. They also require secrecy or trick older adults into clicking on a link or an attachment by using language, such as: you need to confirm your personal information, our records show some suspicious activity on your account, you are eligible for additional saving through our federally-sponsored program.

» Preventing scams —The goal of a scammer is to get older adults to trust them. However, whatever method is used, there are several things older adults can do to stop scammers in their tracks.

» Do not trust everything — Spoofing is using false data, such as a number or email, to commit fraud. Do not trust all emails, texts, or phone calls from strangers asking to verify or provide personal information. The IRS, for example, will never call, email or text to verify payment information. They also will not use the term stimulus payment. Try to verify unknown numbers or email addresses by conducting an online search. Many times consumers have already reported a scam and warnings are posted online.

» Don’t give any money to a charity before determining if it is legitimate. To confirm that a charity is legitimate, people can use the website charitynavigator.com, contact their local Better Business Bureau, or contact the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Call other family members or friends to verify information about emergencies.

» Hang up on calls asking for personal or financial information. Do not click on links or open attachments from unknown individuals or organizations.

» Ignore offers of online cures, treatments, testing, and air filter kits for the coronavirus.

» Stay updated — People should keep their computer and cellphone software updated.

» Reporting Scams — Play close attention to older adults and be on the lookout for possible scams. Look for unexplained changes in their financial situation. Also, watch for older adults to exhibit signs of scams such as overprotectiveness of new friends or caregivers, fear when around certain individuals, or secrecy.

Report fraud or scams to Adult Protective Services (Elder Abuse 1-800-458-7214 or aps@dhr.alabama.gov), Alabama Attorney General’s Office (800-392-5658/334-353-1765 or consumerinterest@ago.state.al.us/legacy) Federal Trade Commission (877-FTC-HELP or ftccomplaintassistant.gov), local police or the Better Business Bureau.

Financial exploitation of the elderly is a widespread problem that is increasing throughout the world. Alabama Extension can help educate people about elder fraud through the Consumer Education for Seniors program. To sign up for the program, contact your county Extension office or Dorothy Brandon, an Alabama Extension consumer sciences specialist, at (256) 372-5458.

Upcoming Events

Written by Tara Barr

Lee County Extension Coordinator

Fathering in 15™ is a free online learning course offered by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, in partnership with the National Fatherhood Initiative.

The course helps fathers build parenting skills anytime and anywhere. This interactive tool allows fathers to take a short parenting course at their own pace.

Using a computer, cellphone or tablet, fathers will be able to cover each topic in about 15 minutes and completely all the topics will take less than 3 hours total — Family History, Being a Man, Handling Feelings, Grief and Loss, Your Health, You and Mom, Talking with Mom, Co-parenting Skills, Fathering Skills, Child Development, Child Discipline, Sexuality, Intimacy, Work-Family Balance, Managing Money.

To participate, fathers must first contact an Extension family and child development agent. Men completing the course receive a free certificate of completion. For $10, they can also receive Continuing Education Credits (CEUs). This will provide a permanent record of completing the course.

Be counted in the 2020 Census! The U.S. Census determines state and federal legislative districts and is used to plan for local schools, roads, and other projects. Visit my2020census.gov. Phone: 334-330-2020.

Sweet Grown Alabama — Alabama’s agricultural branding program, Sweet Grown Alabama, has launched its new online searchable database and website. It will help you find the freshest, highest-quality products while supporting your neighbors. Check out farmer profiles and learn what products are grown near you and what is in season at sweetgrownalabama.org

Box Garden Supply List — Home gardeners can now use their passion for gardening to make a difference in their communities through the Alabama Extension Grow More, Give More project. And there are several ways to grow a garden. If box gardening interests you, we have a supply list to get started.

Alabama Extension and the University of Georgia Extension have teamed up to offer Precision Ag Cottage Food Law Testing over the phone. Contact your County Food Safety & Quality Agent, Janet Johnson, 334-703-2237.

New Precision Ag Webinar Series webinars every Tuesday and Thursday at 5 p.m. (CDT). You can join on the Alabama Precision Ag Facebook page or on Zoom. https://www.facebook.com/AlabamaPrecisionAgOnline/

Get Outside with Alabama Smart Yards! Free Webinar Series (45 minutes) weekday at 11 a.m. (CDT) Connect: https://auburn.zoom.us/j/834500888 Previous Zooms may be found at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/AlabamaSmartYardsAlabamaExtension.

Virtual Farm Tours-Alabama’s stay-at-home orders prevent us from getting out and seeing our beautiful state. But our farms can come to you. This weekly online tour is streamed live on Facebook every Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m. (Alabama Farmer Connection Facebook).

The Commercial Horticulture Extension Team is launching a weekly Facebook Live event called ‘Q&A FRIDAY!’ that can be accessed through our team social media page, https://www.facebook.com/AlabamaExtensionCommercialHorticulture/.

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