Elder Abuse Awareness Resources
Older Americans are one of Tennessee’s most valuable resources and among the most vulnerable for abuse and exploitation by predators. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever come to the attention of authorities. Elders are often targets for financial fraud and identity theft due in part to the amount of wealth they have accumulated throughout their careers, their tendency to be trusting, and their increasing isolation.
We can all play a part in helping protect older Tennesseans by keeping a watchful eye for signs of elder exploitation and promptly reporting possible abuse to the appropriate officials.
The Tennessee Commission on Aging & Disability reminds consumers that Tennessee is a mandatory reporting state for physical abuse. If you see abuse — or even suspect that an adult is being abused, neglected or exploited — you must report it.
If you know someone in the elderly community who is being physically abused, call the Tennessee Department of Human Services Adult Protective Services (APS) unit, toll-free at 888-277-8366.
Red Flags and Warning Signs:
Who Should I Tell?
- If the abuse is happening now, call 911.
- If you suspect elder or adult abuse, call Adult Protective Services at 888-277-8366.
- If the abuse is physical, call Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-356-6767.
Warning Signs of Physical Abuse
- Bruising, especially in the torso or head; frequent injuries from accidents;
- Broken eyeglasses or frames;
- Caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors alone with the older person.
Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse
- Isolation of the older person or refusing to allow visits alone with the senior;
- Observed threatening or belittling of the older person by the caregiver.
Warning Signs of Neglect
- Unusual weight loss;
- Untreated physical problems;
- Unsafe and unsanitary living conditions such as dirt, vermin, soiled clothes and bedding;
- Inappropriate clothing for the weather;
- Desertion or abandonment of the older person in a public place.
Warning Signs of Financial Exploitation
- Significant withdrawals from the vulnerable adult’s accounts;
- Sudden changes in their financial circumstances;
- Valuable items or cash missing from their home;
- Increase in junk mail soliciting purchases or payments for sweepstakes money;
- Neglect of the victim, such as no food in the home; and maintenance and repairs of the home are ignored.
Additionally, TDCI’s Securities Division reminds consumers about the Senior Financial Protection & Securities Modernization Act, enacted as Public Chapter No. 424, which aims to safeguard senior adults (age 65 or older), and others at increased risk of diminished capacity or other cognitive impairment, by providing the securities industry with greater tools to help detect and prevent financial exploitation.
Some guidelines to help elder Tennesseans and their loved ones recognize the red flags and avoid potential financial exploitation and fraud:
- When a stranger asks for money, proceed with caution.
- Before you invest, make sure your investment adviser is licensed. Extensive background information is available through our Department’s Securities Division.
- Beware of salespeople who prey upon your fears. Fear can blind your good judgment. Only invest when you have all the facts and feel comfortable.
- Don’t let embarrassment prevent you from reporting fraud or abuse.
- Every day that you delay reporting fraud or abuse is one more day that the con artist is spending your money and exploiting new victims.
If you suspect that you or a loved one might be a victim of securities or insurance fraud, or if you would like to file a complaint or speak with an investigator, please contact the Tennessee Securities Division – Financial Services Investigations Unit at (615) 741-5900 or visit our website.
According to the National Council on Aging, these are the top 10 scams that Older Americans experience most often.
- Medicare/health insurance scams
- Medicare enrollment form. Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, so there is rarely any need for a scam artist to research what private health insurance company older people have in order to scam them out of some money.
- In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
- Counterfeit prescription drugs
- Most commonly, counterfeit drug scams operate on the Internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications. This scam is growing in popularity—since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, up from five a year in the 1990s.
- The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a person’s medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm. This scam can be as hard on the body as it is on the wallet.
- Funeral & cemetery scams
- The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors.
- In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.
- Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of funeral services, is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket.
- Fraudulent anti-aging products
- In a society bombarded with images of the young and beautiful, it’s not surprising that some older people feel the need to conceal their age in order to participate more fully in social circles and the workplace.
- It is in this spirit that many older Americans seek out new treatments and medications to maintain a youthful appearance, putting them at risk of scammers.
- Botox scams are particularly unsettling, as renegade labs creating versions of the real thing may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin, which is one of the most toxic substances known to science.
- Telemarketing/phone scams
- Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. While the image of the lonely senior citizen with nobody to talk to may have something to do with this, it is far more likely that older people are more familiar with shopping over the phone, and therefore might not be fully aware of the risk.
- With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.
- Examples of telemarketing fraud include:
- The pigeon drop
- The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger.
- The fake accident ploy
- The con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money. This is one that could be very prevalent given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Charity scams
- Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters, which we have already experienced multiple times throughout Tennessee this year.
- The pigeon drop
- Internet fraud
- While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ubiquitous on the web and email programs. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user’s computer to scammers.
- Their unfamiliarity with the less visible aspects of browsing the web (firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example) make seniors especially susceptible to such traps. One example includes:
- Email/phishing scams
- A senior receives email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information. A senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund but these are really from scammers looking to take advantage of the unsuspecting.
- Email/phishing scams
- Investment schemes
- Because many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they finish working, a number of investment schemes have been targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years. From pyramid schemes like Bernie Madoff’s (which counted a number of senior citizens among its victims) to fables, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people.
- Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams
- Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many people above a certain age own their homes, a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value of a certain scam.
- A particularly elaborate property tax scam in San Diego, California saw fraudsters sending personalized letters to different properties apparently on behalf of the County Assessor’s Office. The letter, made to look official but displaying only public information, would identify the property’s assessed value and offer the homeowner, for a fee of course, to arrange for a reassessment of the property’s value and therefore the tax burden associated with it.
- Closely related, there is the potential for a reverse mortgage borrower to be scammed. Scammers can take advantage of older adults who have recently unlocked equity in their homes. Those considering reverse mortgages should be cognizant of people in their lives pressuring them to obtain a reverse mortgage, or those that stand to benefit from the borrower accessing equity, such as home repair companies that approach the older adult directly.
- Sweepstakes & lottery scams
- This simple scam is one that many are familiar with, and it capitalizes on the notion that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
- Here, scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected. During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces.
- The grandparent scam
- The grandparent scam is so simple and devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts.
- Scammers will place a call to an elderly person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.
- Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, bail money etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect.
- At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”
- While the sums from such a scam are likely to be in the hundreds, the very fact that no research is needed makes this a scam that can be perpetrated over and over at very little cost to the scammer.
The Senior Financial Protection & Securities Modernization Act
- Aims to safeguard senior adults (age 65 or older), by providing the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TDCI) Securities Division and securities industry with greater tools to help detect and prevent financial exploitation.
- The Act provides for the ability to impose enhanced civil penalties when victims are 65 years of age or older or 18 years of age or older who, because of mental or physical dysfunction.
- One important program, the "Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program" (EIFFE Prevention Program) educates professionals who routinely work with older Americans to recognize when their older clients may be vulnerable to or victims of financial abuse, particularly those patients with mild cognitive impairment, and then to refer these at-risk patients to State Securities Regulators, local adult protective services professionals or for further medical screening.