COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Once leaders and caretakers, elderly people can be fiercely independent and proud. This can make it difficult to see what’s really happening in their lives.
Isolation, rapid technological advances, a lack of adequate income, and a fractured social network can make elderly people vulnerable. Declining health only adds to this.
In 2021, there were nearly 9,000 fraudulent cases against seniors in Franklin County, according to Kevin Boyce, Franklin County Commissioner. In Ohio from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, there were 33,783 reports of abuse (6,267), neglect (20,449), or exploitation (8,257) received by county departments.
Wolf in sheep’s clothing
Sometimes a strong personality will take an interest in an elderly person’s life. Maybe they seem caring at first, or helpful. But then warning signs appear. Call Franklin County Office on Aging Adult Protection Services at (614) 525-4348 if you see these red flags:
- Someone new moving into the older adult’s home
- Someone taking a sudden interest in the older adult’s finances
- Decreased contact between the older adult and their family or friends
- Hesitancy among the older adult to share information with their family or friends
- Unexplained transactions, transfers or gifts given by the older adult
- Missing funds from the senior’s bank account or valuable items missing from their home
An elderly person’s biggest asset: their home
Act quickly if the elderly person signs a quitclaim deed transferring ownership of real estate.
“If this happens, questions to ask are whether the quitclaim deed was signed appropriately and notarized, as well as whether the older adult was intimidated, deceived, or had the proper mental capacity to sign the quitclaim deed,” said a spokesperson at Franklin County Office on Aging.
“If it’s determined that they were, in fact, intimidated, deceived or there are questions on the adult’s mental capacity, a police report should be filed.”
Resources for seniors and families
If seniors need legal help, they can call Pro Seniors (www.proseniors.org) legal helpline at (513) 345-4160 which offers adults over age 60 in Ohio free legal information, advice, and counseling. They also provide representation and lawyer referrals.
Contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Elder Justice Unit to connect to agencies for resources for victims and families, as well as steps to prevent future acts of abuse.
Residents can get support for a victim of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation from the Elder Justice Unit by calling 800-282-0515.
Franklin County Office on Aging Adult Protection Services (APS) at (614) 525-4348.
Columbus Police non-emergency line: (614) 645-4545.
Scammed? Stop, think, act.
Report suspected fraud to the bank or credit card company.
The Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative website (justice.gov/elderjustice) features an Elder Abuse Resource Roadmap to help quickly find the right reporting agency, financial topics, and helpful resources (justice.gov/elderjustice/financial-exploitation).
Take these practical steps, says the Better Business Bureau:
- Resist the urge to act immediately. Focus on research beyond a Google search. Call a trusted family member or friend to get their point of view.
- Know who the person really is. Ask questions that would be hard for an impostor to answer correctly. Emails can be hacked, and phone numbers can be spoofed.
- Let unrecognized numbers go to voicemail. If it’s important, the caller will leave a message. Hang up on unexpected calls from anyone claiming to be tech support.
- Never wire money or send gift cards to any unknown persons. No government agency or sweepstakes company will ever ask for wired money or gift cards. If someone didn’t enter a sweepstakes, they didn’t win.
- Be aware that a check can bounce even after banks allow a cash withdrawal from the deposit. The person withdrawing will be responsible for the amount of the bounced check plus fees.
- Never give control of computers or share passwords with anyone unless self-initiated. Do not click on any links or call a number that pops up on your screen warning of a computer problem. If a pop-up alert surfaces, shut down the computer and restart it.
Common scams that target elderly and isolated people
According to the BBB, these are some well-known scams targeting elderly people:
- Grandparents scam. The scammer contacts a grandparent claiming to be their grandchild who is in a dire situation and needs money, but not to tell the grandchild’s parents. The plea is so persuasive that the grandparent wires money to the scammer, only to find out later their family member was safe and sound all along. Often the scammer makes inferences from open social media posts.
- Bogus sweepstakes/lottery scam. A senior receives an email or phone call allegedly from a contest organizer stating they have won. But the winner must first pay taxes, shipping costs, or other fees to claim the winnings. The scammer demands money is sent by wire transfer or via a prepaid debit card (with the PIN shared). A scam variation asks seniors to deposit a check into the senior’s personal bank account and then wire or use a prepaid debit card to send the “taxes” to a third party. The check is a fake, and seniors are out the money. Either way, money’s lost.
- Tech support scam. Seniors receive a telephone call or see a pop-up alert on their computer screen from someone claiming to be with tech support from a well-known software company. They are told only a tech support employee can fix a problem they’ve identified, and they request remote access to the senior’s machine. Once access is granted, the caller may pretend to run a “scan” and claims the computer is infected with viruses. The scammer then offers to fix the problem for a fee. When access is allowed, malware may be installed which may scan files for personal information, which scammers can use to commit identity theft.
- IRS or Social Security Scams. Scammers impersonate someone from the Social Security Administration or the IRS claiming the senior owes additional taxes or that the SSN has been suspended. This frightens the senior into accepting any request that may reveal personal information or lose money. Another variation states the SSN has been used in a crime. Everything can be corrected quickly by the scammer.
The SSN nor the IRS will ever directly call or email and SSNs are never blocked or suspended. If contact is needed, it will be through the mail on verifiable letterhead.
- Sweetheart Scam / Hard Luck Scam. Seniors are taken in by a dubious relationship that often begins with befriending a stranger who requests small favors, eventually becoming a sweetheart. Over time, a sense of trust and sympathy forms which is then often followed by isolation from family and friends. As they ask for more and more, the scammer will play on the senior’s sense of competency. A variation is the request to help someone down on their luck. These scams may build over years and are often elaborate.
- Home Repair and Construction Scams. Scammers will knock door to door throughout a neighborhood offering to do services at a lower rate because they are in the area or have surplus materials. They will likely point out an urgent repair need to create a sense of urgency. But they will insist on full payment for a poor job, or not completing the work at all.
- Investment Scams. The scammer may present phony, non-existent investments, be unlicensed, or offer security products not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The scams could also be legitimate investments inappropriate for seniors or rely on deceptive sales practices.
What is abuse of an elderly person?
According to the BBB, abuse falls into three categories: exploitation, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse:
- Lack of amenities victim could afford
- Giving excessive financial reimbursement/gifts for care and companionship
- Caregiver controls elder’s money but fails to provide for elder’s needs
- Caregiver is overly concerned about elder spending money
- Elder/adult signs property transfers (Power of Attorney, a new will, etc.) but is unable to comprehend the transaction or what it means
- Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from normal activities
- Caregiver isolates elder
- Caregiver is verbally aggressive, uncaring, or demeaning
- Inadequately explained fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores, or burns
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
What is neglect of an elderly person?
According to the BBB, these are signs an elderly person has been neglected:
- Lack of basic hygiene, adequate food, or clean and appropriate clothing
- Lack of medical aids (glasses, walkers, hearing aids, medications)
- Unsupervised person with dementia
- Person confined to bed without care
- Cluttered home, filthy, in disrepair, or having fire and safety hazards
- Home without adequate facilities (stove, refrigerator, heating, cooling, plumbing, and electricity)
- Untreated pressure “bed” sores
If you suspect neglect or abuse, call:
- Franklin County Office on Aging Adult Protection Services (APS) at (614) 525-4348.
- The Elder Justice Unit 800-282-0515.
- Columbus Police non-emergency line: (614) 645-4545 or your local sheriff’s office.