Monday, April 17, 2006
As the U.S. population ages, the elderly are becoming a prime target for financial abuse. Sometimes the thief is a stranger who befriends a lonely senior. Other times it's a caregiver with sticky fingers. In still other cases, it's a telemarketer with "found money" to share. Or it can even be members of the senior's family who take advantage of a declining mindfulness. '
The National Center on Elder Abuse, a Washington, D.C., clearinghouse for elder rights advocates, estimates there may be as many as 5 million victims a year. But it acknowledges no one knows for sure because there is no comprehensive data collection nationwide and because many seniors suffer in silence.
Linda Eagle, an expert on elder abuse, believes the majority of cases go unreported. "Some of the elderly never know they've been scammed," she said. "Those who do are often too embarrassed to talk about it. Or they're afraid if they let on to their families, their families will see them as no longer capable of taking care of themselves and they'll take away their independence." Eagle, president of the Edcomm Group, a consulting firm based in Fort Washington, Pa., that trains bankers on regulatory issues, believes that financial institutions need to become more aware of red flags of abuse so they can help protect their elderly customers. And she believes that baby boomers, who begin turning 60 this year, need to become more aware of the problem. "Those baby boomers still fortunate enough to have parents have truly elderly parents who may be vulnerable," Eagle said. "And they themselves are growing older, so the problem will only increase."'
Families whose loved ones have been victimized say the thieves prey on seniors' insecurities.