Financial Abuse of Senior Citizens: Some Protective Advice

An elderly relative was recently scammed by an insurance company with a national reputation.  She has mild to moderate cognitive impairment, common elderly fear of financial loss, and a credit card.  She is also guilty of reading the monthly AARP Bulletin religiously.  As she was reading about identity theft in an ad with a return postcard to seek more information (you now know the identity of the insurance company involved!), her cognitive issues clicked in and she believed her monthly social security income would be lost if her identity were stolen.

She completed the information on the postcard and put it in the mail.  The telephone call to her from the insurance broker was recorded and this author had an opportunity to hear it when the entire scam was revealed:  It was obvious she didn’t want to purchase an ID Theft policy; her voice was reluctant and hesitant; the heavy and insistent tone of the broker was relentless; he finally got her credit card number (after three tries on her part to get the numbers right), her address (several tries on the address), and her reluctant agreement to purchase the policy.  All efforts to have the policy cancelled were fruitless.

Three suggestions arise from this experience, in an effort to be helpful for those responsible for an elderly person in the family (or a close friend):

  1. Talk with the Senior about her/his financial needs; identify a monthly amount needed and insure those funds are available each month.  Keep the issue of finances on the table with your elderly family member or friend to be sure you know when her/his needs change.  If cognitive impairment is involved, it is likely you will need to take additional measures to protect the senior’s financial security.  In the case in question, the credit card was cancelled and substituted with shopping trips with the Senior and a fixed amount of funds provided monthly.
  2. If the Senior is in an assisted living or elder care facility, or if there is a senior citizen center in your community, suggest an educational program for the entire population that focuses on Identity Theft and explains what it is and what it isn’t.  True, for cognitively impaired residents, it may not be very helpful; however, educational programs in such facilities tend to build small support groups, and residents may be able to help each other avoid financial scams.
  3. Make a ‘deal’ with the Senior for whom you are responsible that includes talking about any major financial expenditure, and remind him/her regularly about the ‘deal’…  that is, s/he will discuss with you any need they identify that requires funds in excess of $X amount.

The insurance scam in question was just a few dollars short of $300.  If you believe the scam should be reported to legal authorities, do not hesitate to contact your county or district attorney’s office.  Financial abuse of senior citizens is shameful, especially when it is perpetrated by an insurance company associated with an organization serving seniors.  We may not be able to help our elderly family members avoid it totally, but some small steps may be a beginning.