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The $90,000 Lesson: Protecting Elders from Financial Abuse

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PHOTO:  It's sometimes called "invisible abuse" of older people  from securities fraud to diverting Social Security checks, to flat-out rip-offs by scam artists, many elderly are losing their money. Image by Marti  2010 Microsoft Corporation
PHOTO: It's sometimes called "invisible abuse" of older people from securities fraud to diverting Social Security checks, to flat-out rip-offs by scam artists, many elderly are losing their money. Image by Marti 2010 Microsoft Corporation
 By Chris ThomasContact
August 13, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - The son of an Oregon woman bilked out of $90,000 has advice for other grown children concerned about their aging parents: Get involved sooner rather than later.

At his mother's house, John Fread of Portland noticed a credit card statement with a balance of $20,000. Scammers had charged almost five times that much on several accounts. The Oregon attorney general's office investigated and helped shut down the New York-based company that promised to include her in a "Who's Who" book, but Fread says the ordeal took a terrible toll - not only on his mother's finances, but on her health.

"We are having to really offer emotional support that we never expected. My mom - you know, tough old girl - is now very vulnerable, and her confidence is gone. These people really robbed what should have been the last great part of her life. They took that away from her."

Fread advises grown children to get to know their parents' neighbors, and check out any new people with whom they seem to be friendly. Look at their incoming mail and caller ID for hints of scams and solicitations. Don't worry about seeming nosy, he says; he wishes he had been.

In the past year, the Oregon Department of Human Services reported 672 cases of financial exploitation.

Lower-income seniors can get assistance from the Oregon Money Management Program, sponsored by Easter Seals and AARP. Trained volunteers visit with older people to help pay bills, get financial records in order and just lend a hand in money matters. State coordinator Carol Cookson says it's a good alternative when families don't want to jeopardize a parent's sense of independence.

"A child supervising a parent, that's a very hard role reversal for a lot of people. But when a volunteer who's a friend comes in to help, it's a very different scenario. The help is more easily accepted by the client in that situation."

Fread says collection agencies still are hounding them about the credit card debt, even though they've been informed of the scam. He hopes other families can avoid the ordeal by having conversations that may be uncomfortable - but necessary.

"You know, 'Mom, Dad, things are a little different in your generation than my generation. Here are some things that we need to talk about because I've seen it happening. It's in the news,' for example. It's so much easier to sit down and have the tough conversation proactively, than try to scramble and reactively try to fix something."

Cookson says the program always is in need of volunteers as well as nonprofit groups that can sponsor the service in more towns across the state. Other sources of information are the state's Long-Term Care Ombudsman and Department of Human Services. AARP also has fraud prevention tips online at aarp.org.

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