May is Older Americans Month, a month we can all appreciate. We all have older individuals in our lives whom we care for dearly, and most of us will be in their shoes one day as well. Although we need to consider the safety of our elders year-round, it's important to take this one month to really concentrate our efforts toward their protection and the prevention of crimes targeting seniors.
According to the Administration on Aging, the older population is defined as persons 65 years or older, and there will be about 72.1 million older persons by 2030, representing 19 percent of the population. With an increasing number of older persons comprising the overall U.S. population, elder fraud and abuse are only going to become more prevalent, widespread threats. Unfortunately, crimes against seniors are already heavily underreported because many seniors feel ashamed and embarrassed or do not possess the capacity to report the crimes.
Sid Kirchheimer from the AARP Bulletin reported earlier this year that “scam artists steal a documented $3 billion a year from the 55-plus population, a mere fraction of the actual amount, considering that only an estimated 4 percent of retirement-age victims — just one in 25, according to various studies — ever report those crimes.” Furthermore, according to the MetLife study, “Broken Trust: Elders, Family & Financers,” an estimated one million seniors lose over $2.6 billion from financial abuse in the U.S. annually.
As if being swindled out of a lifetime of savings isn’t bad enough, many senior citizens also face the threat of physical abuse or neglect. These crimes go largely unreported as well because of fear of retaliation, lack of physical and/or cognitive ability to report, or because they don’t want to get the abuser (90 percent of whom are family members) in trouble, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.
This year, in observance of Older Americans Month, the National Crime Prevention Council’s President and CEO, Ann M. Harkins, will unveil NCPC's new elder abuse and elder fraud prevention materials on May 16, 2013, at the 19th Annual Older Americans Information and Health Fair sponsored by the Dallas Area Agency on Aging and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. These new materials will be available on NCPC’s website along with our current resources, which we encourage all to review and share. Some quick tips to ensure safer seniors include
- It’s shrewd, not rude to hang up on suspicious telemarketers
- Don’t give personal information to people you don’t know unless you initiated the contact
- Don’t let yourself get pressured into a verbal agreement or signing a contract
- Be skeptical of online charitable solicitations and other online offers. If interested, ask to receive the information in the mail and check to be sure the company is legitimate
- Never agree to pay for products or services in advance
- Get estimates and ask for references on home repair offers and other products or services
- If you suspect fraud, contact your local law enforcement agency immediately
Detecting physical abuse or neglect
- Physical injuries like large bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, burns, and bed sores
- Drastic and inexplicable shifts in the person’s financial situation, such as not enough food in the house or utilities being turned off
- Degradation in the person’s daily upkeep, such as personal hygiene, or unusual weight loss or gain
- Isolation from or a new unwillingness to talk to close friends, or a avoidance of certain topics
- A withdrawal from the person’s normal activities not explained by age alone
- Report concerns to a local adult protective services agency or to local law enforcement. You don’t have to prove abuse is taking place to say something to the authorities, but they need your tips to further investigate potential abuse.