Are people with Alzheimer’s or dementia more vulnerable to financial abuse or exploitation?
According to a December 2013 article in The Wall Street Journal, one in five Americans age 65 and older has been financially abused. Considering that one in 10 individuals over the age of 65 develops Alzheimer’s disease, financial fraud among individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia is widespread and these individuals remain prime targets. Seniors lose an estimated $3 billion each year to financial fraud.
One of the biggest risk factors for financial abuse and exploitation is having some form of cognitive impairment, whether it’s mild cognitive impairment or more substantial like Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Some key factors that increase the risk of exploitation include loneliness and isolation, poor physical health and the need for help with everyday tasks, and age-related brain changes that make people more dependent as they get older.
Many individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia often feel isolated and crave interaction, so they tend to befriend and trust con artists who are kind, helpful, and very manipulative. Affected individuals are more vulnerable and lack the cognitive skills to discern the intentions of these strangers.
Scammers and scam artists persistently pursue unknown affected individuals through phone calls, email, and spam. They contact the affected individual to win a fake lottery or prize. The scammer will ask the individual to send money to cover processing fees and/or taxes before the prize is sent. Or, scammers play on the affected individual’s feelings by calling and saying they are from a charity that needs money to help the underprivileged.
In addition, one can find scam artists, posing as fake utility workers, coming directly to the home, offering unsolicited home maintenance. These scam artists may charge too much for work that is not needed, perform shoddy work or no work at all, and even steal the individual’s home.
Similar to unsolicited housekeeping workers, there are door-to-door scammers who sell magazines or other items at inflated prices and require the individual to sign a contract or recurring monthly subscription fees.
More threatening to the affected individual is the lawyer who calls expressing urgency and trying to obtain confidential identity information, telling the individual that his or her credit card has been compromised and that the lawyer needs this private information.
There is also financial abuse in the Medicare arena in that scammers try to “sell” a deal on discounted medical equipment and/or prescriptions, or they ask the affected individual to verify his or her Medicare ID for a replacement card .
The caregiver of an individual affected by Alzheimer’s must take precautions to ensure the protection of his or her loved one. It’s a good idea to have a phone dialer and/or caller ID to screen calls. Private information such as Social Security or Medicare identification numbers should never be given out, and donations to charities should be known and have official websites with protected ways to contribute. Junk email should be deleted daily from the affected individual’s computer.
Register all unsolicited phone numbers in the Do Not Call registry (www.donotcall.gov) or all unsolicited mail in the Do Not Mail registry (https://www.directmail.com/mail_preference/).
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 who are most likely to have answers to your questions.
Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders can be directed to Dana Territo, author of What My Grandchildren Taught Me About Alzheimer’s Disease, at [email protected]