The stories have become all too familiar. A contractor demands cash only for home repairs and refuses to put anything in writing. A relative moves in with a senior and slowly siphons money from the older adult’s bank account. A cold caller asks you for personal information and promises to wire you a sum of money.
These increasingly common tales, Larry Williams said, are all examples of the same thing: Financial exploitation.
“Financial exploitation is just a fancy word for stealing,” said Williams, an implementation specialist at Williams Training Consultants based in Rahway, who recently gave a presentation at New Community Commons Senior on financial exploitation targeting older adults. The presentation is part of an initiative headed by the Rutgers School of Social Work, Office of Continuing Education, which is hosting educational workshops around the state through September, and is funded under the federal Superstorm Sandy Social Services Block Grant administered by the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
Resident Sandra Roach said that her friend became a victim of financial exploitation during a kitchen renovation project five years ago. Attempting to be cautious, Roach said her friend accompanied the contractors to Home Depot to purchase new cabinets, a stove and other kitchen fixtures. When they pulled in front of her home, the con artists sped off with the newly purchased items and left Roach’s friend standing in front of a home with a gutted kitchen.
“They drove off with her whole kitchen,” Roach, 61, said. “Her kitchen is still not done today. She can’t afford it.” Williams advised seniors on how to protect themselves in the following ways:
Don’t rush to repair damages to your home after a disaster: Your hurry to return to a normal life may cost you more money and aggravation.
Be discreet and cautious about money matters: Proceed cautiously if someone offers to manage your finances during a difficult time.
Think of the telephone as a ‘one-way street’: Only give personal information to people you call, not to anyone who telephones you.
Treat unfamiliar emails and websites as ‘read only’: Never provide your personal or financial information and avoid downloading or opening attachments.
Stay connected to people you know and trust.
Don’t let your desire to help yourself or others cloud your judgement.
Seek help if you suspect that you are a victim of financial exploitation.
Tragically, some victims stay silent due to embarrassment or fear of reprisal from the perpetrator. “They get close to you. They try to win your confidence,” Williams said of con artists.
But he urged seniors to report scammers, because otherwise they will continue to defraud others.
“If someone is taking advantage of you, don’t just roll over and quietly go into the night,” Williams said.
Why Are Seniors More Vulnerable?
- Reliance on medication
- Diminished physical mobility
- Loss of vision and hearing
- Memory changes
- Dependence on others