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Elder financial abuse is a big problem that’s getting bigger.

Back in 2010, MetLife released a report estimating that $2.9 billion is lost by America’s elderly each year, based on published accounts of fraud, but most observers believed that figure was low. A new survey released last week might be closer to the mark: True Link Financial, which helps the elderly manage their money, estimates that seniors lose $36 billion every year, and roughly 1 in 3 older Americans have been scammed in the past five years.

“Those of us working in the field have long known that the United States is in the throes of an elder financial abuse epidemic,” said Shawna Reeves, Director of Elder Abuse Prevention at the Institute on Aging, reacting to the survey. ”Unfortunately, we’ve lacked well-designed studies capturing the true nature and scope of the problem. This study is a game changer. Not only does it challenge the previous studies but it serves as a clarion call for further research and action.”

While the financial loss estimates are based in part on an online poll, reaction to Credit.com’s recent coverage of the elder fraud crisis certainly supports True Link’s findings. Hundreds of sad stories poured into my email, and onto comment boards. Below is a representative sample of them, showing the various ways seniors can be separated from their money.

The Sweepstakes Spiral

My mother-in-law lived in another state. When my father in law died, we could not convince her to leave the house they built together.

Many of the problems you outlined and then some followed. … The biggest fraud was all the letters that said “You have won $500,000” in big print “this could be you” was in small print. She had sent “donations” and “subscriptions” to them all. Thousands of dollars gone in the mail, and we did not know about it until we saw shoe boxes filled with the things. She had sent her money in and did not understand why her big payday never came.

Scammers Targeted My Mom

My 80-year-old mother was scammed out of about $25,000. She gave everything she had and when she ran out of savings she was convinced to go take out small loans and wire the money. The scammers were out of Canada and convinced her that she had won a big lottery but she had to pay the duties and taxes before she would get her payout. She called my brother one day and told him she needed $800 right away which was the red flag. I found all of the Western Union receipts where she had wired the money, totaling $25,000. I’m sure there was more than that that I did not find. I filed a case with the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and were told unless they caught the perps with evidence leading back to her directly there would be no justice. I had to take over her finances completely and take care of her bills and give her cash every week because we still do not trust that it wouldn’t happen again. I had to change her phone number and monitor her mail and found that she literally received mail every day trying to dupe her of money. She’s 88 now and lives on (Social Security), about $1,200 per month. If I were face to face with the people who did this to her I would have no mercy.

When the Victim Feels Betrayed

I have an elderly friend — 84 — who got caught up in a scam.  She apparently got a phone call from a “sweet-talker” and then received a letter with a Bank of America logo which, of course was fake. The (English) was rather poor, but she fell for it anyway. (They said) they would deposit $3.5 Million in her account (which she doesn’t have with Bank of America) if she would send money to them for lawyer fees, accountant fees, etc.

She is a person I never thought would fall for something like this. It was only by accident that I discovered she had sent thousands of dollars (mostly to addresses in Florida). Needless to say I gave all information to her own bank, which promptly searched and found these people to be very bad. When her lawyer told her of all this, she actually was angry that I had looked at her checkbook and journal.

From Millionaire to Medicaid

I read your article with great interest as this happened with my parents and no one would do anything. My father was a very successful businessman who suffered two strokes, starting at the age of 60. My brother moved in after the second stroke to help care for him. He then convinced my parents it would be healthier if they moved to …(a) warmer climate. At the point of the move, he changed the address of their financial statements to go to a P.O. box … He then forged their names and opened fraudulent bank accounts where he took more than $3 million. He was able to do this by calling their financial advisor and having the funds wired.

We were forced to … put my father in a nursing home as my mother could not care for him.  He had to be placed on Medicaid as there was no money left for his care.

We Couldn’t Stop Her From Spending

My mother gave away all of her money to these scams. My sisters and I had to get her to let us invest some before she gave it all away, so we would have money to bury her. That in itself is a sad statement. At one point she told me, “I invested my money with an offshore account and I don’t think I will ever see my money again, because the lady won’t return my calls,” and “I don’t have any life insurance.”

She was suckered in by the psychic scams, the lotteries from different countries, and all kinds of charity (scams), to the tune of over $250,000. Mom would give us envelopes to mail to some of these places. Fortunately we were able to intercept them, since inside was cash, because my sister was on her checking account.

We tried everything. Telling callers nothing was done without consulting her attorney and/or financial advisor; alerting bank personnel; logging phone numbers and addresses to turn over to the authorities; threats; etc. The State of California would not even help since, despite her age, she had the wherewithal to wait until my sister was not home, call a cab, go to the bank and withdraw thousands of dollars. Which apparently went to the person who was waiting for her to hand it over for an “investment.”

These people hound and harass the elderly by inundating them with mail and phone calls. Calls at all hours, I might add. Stacks and stacks of mail solicitations. It is no different than stalking.

Alcohol, New Friend Fuel the Mistakes

Yes, our mother has given well over half a million dollars to her “boyfriend.” She has mortgaged her house to “invest” in his jewelry business. Written checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Opened credit cards and charged $20,000 at a time.

My father died 5 years ago and left her relatively wealthy. Thankfully there is a trust protecting a portion of it. My sister and I have had many discussions with her. It doesn’t help that she’s an alcoholic who wants to believe all the beautiful lies he tells.

If you’re worried that a family member or friend may have fallen victim to identity theft, a scam or financial abuse, it’s important to contact law enforcement immediately to file a report and freeze any new applications for credit.

If you have a story you’d like to share, write to me at bob@credit.com.

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