There is a lot of money to be made in scamming vulnerable seniors, including those who are homebound or in nursing homes. A 2015 report issued by True Link Financial found that financial abuse and fraud cost America’s seniors over $36 billion every single year. The report also concluded that approximately 37 percent of American seniors are victims of financial abuse in any five-year period.
Elder financial abuse and fraud is such a thriving industry because seniors can make ideal and lucrative targets for scammers. They have likely spent years amassing significant assets after a lifetime of work. They may be in poor health, their reasoning and mental faculties may be weakened, and a lack of familiarity with technology can leave them particularly vulnerable to scams over the internet or involving online accounts.
It can often fall upon the loved ones of Michigan seniors to remain vigilant against such financial predators. Sometimes, sadly, loved ones even need to look out for other loved ones who may seek to enrich themselves at their older relative’s expense. Here are some common scams to look out for:
Healthcare/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud
Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and the day-to-day complexities of the healthcare system can be overwhelming for seniors. This can leave them vulnerable to those who want to use that complexity to their advantage. Scammers may pose as Medicare representatives to get seniors to disclose personal information such as Social Security numbers, or they may offer them bogus or unnecessary services at makeshift clinics, then use the personal information they gather to bill Medicare and run off with the senior’s money.
Funeral and Cemetery Scams
Horribly, some scammers will attend funerals of complete strangers after reading an obituary to try to take advantage of a mourning widow or widower. Claiming that their loved one had an outstanding debt, scammers will try to extort money from family members to resolve the bogus debts. Shady funeral homes may also try to scam bereaved family members by padding the bill with unnecessary charges or making misrepresentations as to what the law requires.
Telemarketing and Internet Fraud
The internet, where seniors spend an increasing amount of time, is a cesspool of scam artists who prey on vulnerable, trusting, or naïve individuals. This can include website purchases that are paid for but never delivered, “Nigerian email scams” asking for money in exchange for the promise of receiving a part of a large fortune, or “phishing” emails that try to get seniors to disclose personal information. Similarly, unsolicited calls seeking money for fake charities, callers advising the senior that they have won a sweepstakes or contest that will require them to front money to claim their prize, or callers holding themselves out as authorities, utilities, or banks can all siphon cash from unsuspecting seniors.
It’s Not Just Strangers
All of these scams typically involve strangers, but a surprisingly large amount of elder fraud is perpetrated by family members or caregivers. The True Link study found that caregiver financial abuse costs seniors $6.67 billion annually. In some cases, trusted caretakers will persuade a senior to hand over control of important financial matters, such as bank accounts or insurance proceeds. In other situations, adult children or other loved ones will pressure or use undue influence to get a senior to sign wills or powers of attorney that give the other person the right to manage their financial affairs in their own self-interest.
Michigan seniors who feel they are victims of financial abuse or fraud can report their concerns to the state Department of Insurance and Financial Services at 877-999-6442.
Sommers Schwartz: Protecting the Rights and Well-Being of Michigan Seniors
Any abuse or mistreatment of seniors – whether financial, physical, or emotional – is unacceptable. At Sommers Schwartz, we hold those who engage in elder abuse and neglect accountable for the harm they cause, including nursing homes that fail to properly care for the seniors admitted to their facilities.
If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse or nursing home negligence, please contact us today.