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The $90,000 Lesson: Protecting Elders from Financial Abuse

PHOTO:  It's sometimes called "invisible abuse" of older people  from securities fraud to diverting Social Security checks, to flat-out rip-offs by scam artists, many elderly are losing their money. Image by Marti  2010 Microsoft Corporation
PHOTO: It's sometimes called "invisible abuse" of older people from securities fraud to diverting Social Security checks, to flat-out rip-offs by scam artists, many elderly are losing their money. Image by Marti 2010 Microsoft Corporation
September 12, 2012

PHOENIX - The son of a woman bilked out of $90,000 has advice for other grown children concerned about their aging parents: Get involved sooner rather than later.

At his mother's house in Oregon, John Fread noticed a credit card statement with a balance of $20,000. Scammers had charged almost five times that much on several accounts. They started as phone solicitors and eventually sent people to her home to lift financial information.

Fread says the ordeal took a terrible toll - not only on his mother's finances, but on her health.

"We are having to really offer emotional support that we never expected. My mom - you know, tough old girl - is now very vulnerable, and her confidence is gone. These people really robbed what should have been the last great part of her life; they took that away from her."

Fread advises grown children to get to know their parents' neighbors, and check out any new people or caregivers in their lives. Glance at their incoming mail and caller ID for hints of scams and solicitations. Don't worry about seeming 'nosy', he says - he wishes he had been.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office says reports of elder abuse in the state are up 150 percent in the past decade, with financial exploitation and fraud the most common forms of abuse.

Fread says collection agencies still are hounding his family about the credit card debt, even though they've been informed of the scam. He hopes other families can avoid these problems by having conversations that may be uncomfortable - but necessary.

"Y'know, 'Mom, Dad, things are a little different in your generation than my generation. Here are some things that we need to talk about because I've seen it happening - it's in the news,' for example. It's so much easier to sit down and have the tough conversation proactively than try to scramble and reactively try to fix something."

The Area Agency on Aging in Phoenix estimates only about one case in 14 is ever reported.

A report from MetLife Insurance Co. estimates the loss by victims of elder financial abuse at $2.9 billion a year. Its research is online at metlife.com.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ