Super Physicians: Stopping The Financial Abuse of Seniors

Elder Financial Abuse Scams
The subject of this blog post is very different from my other posts, as I feel that it will hit close to home – rather than the office – for many of you. We need to talk about something very important – something that you can do now to really make a difference in the lives of your patients. I’d like to talk about how doctors and nurses can play an important front line role in stopping the financial abuse of seniors.

I grew up in rural Southern Maryland in a loving household filled with lots of family. Mine was a traditional Indian extended family, with my grandparents, parents, brother, sister and myself living together. My Father is a hardworking physician – a Gastroenterologist. As a child, I remembered he would leave home at 6 am to see patients at his private practice, come home in the evening to eat dinner, and go back to the hospital to make rounds – just to make sure that our family would live a good life. My Mother is an absolutely amazing woman and always made sure that me, my younger sister and my younger brother were taken care of, learned the right lessons, ate the right foods, etc.  (I’m now 38 years old and she still does – thanks Mom!). My Grandmother, now 98 years old, and my Grandfather, who has since passed, would spend time with us, speak with us in our mother tongue and ensured that we learned to respect the older generation. Together, they all played a part in making sure that we, the younger generation, would ingrain these same values in our children. As we carry on their wisdom, we should consistently do our part to protect them from those that threaten their livelihood.I was recently reading an article in Consumer Reports that talks about protecting seniors from elder financial abuse. Seniors and their families lose $3 billion dollars each year to heartless scammers and it must end!


Here are 4 stories from the Consumer Reports article that particularly caught my eye:

“An unscrupulous financial adviser cheated Philip Deeb, 77, of Bradenton, FL, out of $186,000 before law enforcement stepped in.”
“In the hope of claiming a prize to share with family, Edna Schmeets, 86, of Harvey, ND, lost $297,000 to swindlers.”
“Thinking she was rescuing her grandson overseas, Beth Baker, 87, of National City, CA, lost $65,000 to fraudsters before realizing she’d been conned.”
“Louise Brown, 68, a retired nurse from Richmond, VT, met a man through a dating site who charmed her through e-mails and texts. Over six months, he persuaded her to send $60,000 to cover business troubles abroad. The money hasn’t been recovered.”

It seems that anyone with a good heart and trusting demeanor can become a victim. Of course I worry about the older generation in my family – my Father is 70 years old and my Mother is 63 years old – and I have spoken with them about phone scams and phishing scams via internet or email. My Dad often receives suspicious emails “from his bank” and knows not to click on those emails. A few months back, my Mom received a call from someone claiming that they were from the IRS and that if she did not pay a certain outstanding amount, she would be thrown in jail. When the caller asked for her full name, she immediately sensed it was a scam, and said “Well, if you’re really from the IRS, you’d know that!” Go Mom! you made me proud! Unfortunately, not everyone would be able to accurately spot a scammer. They have been described as being “stealthy” with pitches that are “nearly hypnotic.”

My company, Health Prime International, manages around 1,500 physicians and as I visited the various medical centers we take care of, I was surprised to find that very few practices had information letting seniors and their family members know to be aware of these types of numerous scams. In a recent study, nearly 1 in 20 seniors said that they were taken advantage of financially. If a disease of this magnitude struck older Americans, there would be a declaration of a public health crisis. Physicians and nurses can play an integral part in making sure that this does not happen because such a large portion of your patient base consists of senior citizens that respect and listen to you!

So how can you, as a medical care giver, help educate seniors and their loved ones to watch out for these scammers and guarantee that they will not fall prey to the thousands of scams that are popping up every day?

Here are some tips to share with your patients and their families:

  1. Sign up for Nomorobo (www.nomorobo.com). It is a free service that intercepts robot telemarketers from getting through to your phone.
  2. Opt out of commercial mail solicitations by visiting dmachoice.org.
  3. Create a shared bank account with someone you trust and arrange to transfer only enough money to pay the bills.
  4. Never hire a contractor without first checking with your state’s contractor licensing board and the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org). Make sure to ask for proof of insurance and bonding, and never pay in full up front.
  5. Check a financial advisor’s credentials using brokercheck.finra.org.
  6. Have someone trusted, but not on the bank account, periodically take a look at statements. Sometimes, all it takes is another set of eyes to spot something that looks suspicious.
  7. Visit often, sometimes without advanced notice. Look for changes in behavior that could indicate a potential problem (discussed below).

Here are some examples of red flags family members should look for:

  1. Social Isolation
  2. Bereavement
  3. Dependence on another to provide care
  4. Financially responsible for adult child or spouse
  5. Alcohol or drug abuse
  6. Depression or mental illness

Providers should consider these red flags from a clinical observation viewpoint:

  1. Cognitive problems
  2. Fearful, emotionally labile, or distressed
  3. Suspicious, delusional
  4. Change in appearance, poor hygiene
  5. Accompanied by caregiver who is overly protective; dominates patient/client
  6. Change in ability to perform activities of daily living, including self-care, daily finances, medication management

Let us work together to stop these scammers from taking advantage of those that are too trustworthy. It has been going on for far too long and too many families have suffered. I’m going to be speaking with my colleagues to see how we can set up an educational program for medical professionals to learn about enderly financial abuse talking points, while also earning CME credits. If you are interested, please let me know!

Sources:

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/consumer-protection/preventing-elder-abuse

http://www.investorprotection.org/ipt-activities/?fa=eiffe-pp

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