Experts: More needed to combat elder fraud
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Using words such as "epidemic" and "national crisis," experts in fighting elder financial fraud Wednesday warned that more needs to be done to protect the nation's seniors against scammers focused on stealing a lifetime of savings.
"Financial swindles targeting seniors are a bigger problem today than ever before, and seniors need more help," Don Blandin, CEO of the Investor Protection Trust, said during a conference call with reporters.
The nonprofit Washington-based group released a survey of some 750 financial, regulatory, health, legal and other professionals who work with the elderly that found 78 percent believed older Americans were "very vulnerable" to financial exploitation and fraud. Roughly half, 53 percent, said seniors did not have adequate resources for picking a financial adviser to help protect their savings.
The survey was conducted at the request of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is looking for ways to guard the finances of older Americans.
Survey participants identified the most common abuses as theft or diversion of funds or property by family members, theft or diversion of funds or property by caregivers, and financial scams perpetrated by strangers.
The survey also identified the best prevention method as education, counseling or personal finance management programs delivered by local professionals such as caregivers, adult protective services workers, law enforcement agencies and health care professionals.
Next were programs delivered through senior centers and other senior facilities, followed by programs administered by senior-oriented national and local organizations.
"The message is clear, we have to be aggressive meeting with seniors where they are and where they feel safe, which in many cases is right there in your community," Mr. Blandin said.
In 2010, the Investor Protection Trust launched the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program that now works with state securities offices in 26 states, including Pennsylvania, to fight elder fraud. The program also trains health care providers to spot mental impairments that leave seniors vulnerable to financial abuse and to intervene.
Mr. Blandin called the efforts "encouraging," but said that putting a major dent in the problem would require new and innovative collaborative efforts by public and private experts.
"This is a public health problem," said Mark Lachs, a physician and director of geriatrics at New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System.
"When older Americans are financially exploited and there are no resources left for their care, these individuals effectively become wards of the state. In these cases, all Americans end up paying."
Major types of fraud include "problems like people getting deeds to houses, taking out credit cards, getting control of bank accounts," Dr. Lachs said.
For more information on elder fraud prevention programs, visit www.investorprotection.org.
First Published August 16, 2012 12:00 am