Various studies estimate that seniors in the U.S. are scammed out of anywhere from $3 billion to $37 billion a year.
Between 2013 and 2017, those over age 70 lost an average of $41,800 to elder financial exploitation, according to an analysis by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Many individuals with Alzheimer's or dementia often feel isolated and crave interaction, so they tend to befriend and trust scam artists who are polite, helpful and very manipulating. The abuse is often underreported because the detection of abuse is complicated by various biological, pathological, ethnic and cultural factors.
Affected individuals may fear losing their independence if the abuse is discovered or are reluctant to disclose it because they fear retaliation or losing support from their family or friends.
Most scam artists persistently pursue their victims through phone calls and junk mail. They may say the person has won a fake sweepstakes or prize, or ask the individual to send money to cover processing fees or the taxes before the prize can be sent.
Scammers may play on someone's feelings by calling and telling him or her they are from a charitable organization that needs money to help the underprivileged. Or they may pose as utilities workers, coming directly to the home, offering unsolicited home maintenance. They proceed to overcharge for work that is not needed, perform shoddy work or no work at all, and even burglarize the individual's home. Similar to unsolicited home maintenance workers, there are door-to-door scammers selling magazines or other items at inflated prices, and the individual is asked to sign a contract or recurring monthly subscription fees.
More threatening is the telephone solicitor who calls expressing urgency and trying to get confidential identity information, telling an individual it's needed because his or her credit card has been compromised.
There is also financial abuse in the Medicare arena in that scammers try to “sell" a deal on medical equipment or discounted prescriptions, or they ask the affected individual to verify their Medicare ID number for a replacement card.
The caregiver of some with Alzheimer's or dementia should take precautions to ensure a loved one is protected. It's a good idea to have a telephone answering machine or caller ID to screen calls. Private information such as Social Security or Medicare ID numbers should never be given, and donations should go to familiar charities which have protected websites.
Register all unsolicited phone numbers on the “Do Not Call” registry (donotcall.gov).
To report fraud or a scam in the state of Louisiana, start with the attorney general, Better Business Bureau or contact the local municipal, state or federal regulators most likely to have answers to your questions. Additionally, the Adult Protective Services in each state offers services for elder abuse claims.