Late last year, the Pasadena Police Department warned residents of phone scammers posing as officers who were disguising their phones to appear on caller ID as legitimate department numbers.
According to authorities, residents were told that either they owed money to the Internal Revenue Service, or they were being investigated for fraud by the department. The callers then demanded their driver’s license, credit card and Social Security numbers. Although many younger residents probably would not have given out that type of personal information over the phone, more and more senior citizens are falling prey to this type of con, said Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson.
“Our aging community is at risk by people who try and take advantage of circumstances bound by financial gain,” said Clawson. “Sadly, at times this includes being victimized by other family members. Aging seniors should look into secure financial trusts and or wills and look into what protection plans their banks or credit card companies offer to keep assets secure.”
According to Clawson, other types of fraud can occur when seniors are duped into signing over bank accounts, providing a small amount of money for a large return on investment that will never occur, or other scams aimed at getting at their assets.
“If the deal seems too good to be true, do not take advantage of it, as the end result could be catastrophic to those living on fixed incomes,” Clawson warned.
Many times the danger comes from family members or caregivers.
In one case in 2016, Fran Breslauer’s live-in caregiver refused to leave her home and started moving furniture out of the house. The woman then sold 90-year old Breslauer’s clothing and left the house in shambles before she was arrested a year later.
The squatter, Cheryl Sherrell, pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal trespassing in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges of elder abuse and theft.
In other cases, caretakers move in and find ways to legally bilk seniors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and their homes.
Pasadena is home to nearly 20,000 senior citizens, all of whom are prime targets for scammers, say local law enforcement officials, who believe more and more con artists are targeting older Americans.
“Almost all of the crimes seniors citizens face is fraud,” said Pasadena Police Chief John Perez. “What makes it terrible is many times it is their own family members that do it.”
Perez said he is planning to put together a volunteer group that will perform welfare checks on local elderly residents.
In addition, the Pasadena Police Department is planning two events on real estate fraud regarding the elderly. The first one will begin at 2 p.m. on May 22 at Villa Parke Community Center, 363 E. Villa St., Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 744-6530 or visit cityofpasadena.net/venue/villa-parke-community-center-2/. The second one will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. on May 28 at the Jackie Robinson Center, 1020 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 744-7300 or visit cityofpasadena.net/venue/jackie-robinson-center-2/.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that people 60 and older made up 26 percent of all fraud complaints — the highest of any age group. The numbers will only increase as baby boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964 — continue aging. The 78 million boomers make up the largest portion of the population and many of them are not tech savvy and don’t understand the risks of identity theft.
The US Census Bureau predicts that people 65 and older will make up about 20 percent of the population by 2030.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drew attention to elder exploitation as a public health problem in a 2016 report by Mark Lachs, co-chief of the division of geriatrics and palliative medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
In his report, Lachs called elder abuse a “public health crisis” and pointed out victims, including those who suffer financial exploitation, have shorter life expectancies.
According to an article in Bloomberg News, every year seniors are bilked out of an estimated $37 billion. Many of those people lose hundreds of thousands of dollars to squatters who convince them to sign over money and homes.
According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60 or older have experienced some form of elder abuse.
In 2017, the FTC reported that people older than 60 are much more likely to report fraud than people in their 20s, but they are also far more reluctant to say they lost money.
“When people over 80 report losing money, the amount they lose is a lot higher than the amount younger people lose,” said Lois Greisman, elder justice coordinator of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The elder coordinator position at the FTC was created as part of the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017 authorizing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take steps to combat elder abuse. Under the new law, the federal government must create an elder justice coordinator position in federal judicial districts, at the DOJ, and at the FTC.
The law also mandates the implementation of comprehensive training on elder abuse for FBI agents, and formation of a resource group to assist prosecutors in pursuing elder abuse cases.
The law also requires the DOJ to collect data on elder abuse and investigations as well as provide training and support to states to fight elder abuse. The law specifically targets email fraud by expanding the definition of telemarketing fraud to include email fraud. Prohibited actions include email solicitations for investment for financial profit, participation in a business opportunity, or commitment to a loan.
The law was signed shortly after the Senior Safe Act — modeled on a program by the same name in Maine.
The bipartisan act “empowers and encourages our financial service representatives to identify warning signs of common scams and help prevent seniors from becoming victims,” said US Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who co-authored the Senate version of the measure along with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
“Exploiting and defrauding seniors is cowardly, and these crimes should be addressed as the reprehensible acts they are,” said Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, another co-sponsor of the legislation, adding that the new law “sends a clear signal from Congress that combating elder abuse and exploitation should be top priority for law enforcement.”