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In January, Undersecretary John Chapman was a part of a collaborative effort to educate the public about the warning signs of elder financial abuse. Secretary Alice Bonner from the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan, and Division of Banks Commissioner Terence McGinnis also spoke on the panel. You can read more about the event on our website.

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Since April is Financial Literacy Month, it’s important that we remind ourselves and our older loved ones on the importance of being financially literate, and that includes knowing how to spot and prevent elder financial abuse.

The National Council on Aging estimates that elder abuse costs older Americans $36.5 billion per year. Elders are a target for scammers for many reasons. They may be isolated from family and friends; they may be less technologically –inclined than younger generations; or they may have more assets, such as retirement funds, for scammers to steal.

Financial abuse can take many forms, from common phone or email scams to stolen credit cards or depletion of financial accounts. A common scam known as the “grandparent scam” preys upon elders who are tricked into thinking they are helping a loved one (usually a grandchild).  Callers will say that the grandchild has been arrested or kidnapped, for example, and need money transferred immediately or payment using gift cards to post bail or pay ransom. There are instances where seniors have spent hundreds of dollars hoping to help their grandchild only to learn she or he had been safe all along.

Limiting the amount of personal information that is publicized on social media could help reduce the risk of being scammed. Something as simple as posting a picture of your family and including the names of grandchild can be used to take advantage of elders.

Some seniors fall victim to prize winning schemes. They’re promised millions of dollars in winnings and just need to pay fees to collect their winnings. In more severe cases, elders don’t lose a few hundred dollars, but rather, their entire life savings. And sadly, the abuse is often committed by someone the elder knows and trusts.

If someone takes a newfound interest in an elder’s finances, that may be cause for concern. Often times, caregivers, neighbors or family members become close with elders so that they can access sensitive information. Watch out for unusual account activity, changes to wills or closing of accounts.

Are there unpaid bills or notices of utility shut-offs or eviction? Increased confusion about or reluctance to discuss banking and financial matters. Many seniors may either be unsuspecting of the abuse or intimidated by their abuser. Embarrassment is another major reason why more cases of abuse are not reported. It is difficult for people of any age to come forward after falling victim to financial exploitation because they often feel ashamed to admit it. Only one in 44 cases of financial abuse are reported, according to the National Adult Protective Services.

Financial Literacy Month is a great time to make sure you and your loved ones are educated on the warning signs of elder financial abuse. If you suspect abuse, be sure to report it! More information can be found on the Executive Office of Elder Affairs website https://www.mass.gov/report-elder-abuse or by contacting the Commonwealth’s Elder Abuse Hotline at 800-922-2275.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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