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Monday was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The day is set aside to highlight the abuse of senior citizens across the world. Here in Missouri, one particular type of abuse regarding senior citizens is skyrocketing: financial abuse. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore went to an assisted living community in Springfield to find out how seniors are beginning to get more savvy—and less trusting—when it comes to financial predators.
Andrew McCormick is the executive director of the Gardens Assisted Living facility on Sunset and Fort. He recalls one woman in his facility who received frequent calls from scam artists. The solicitor always made big promises and asked for her personal information. It got so bad that McCormick eventually had the woman forward the calls to him.
“One of us would get on the phone and start asking questions,” McCormick recalls. “And usually, the person on the other end would become pretty hostile. We’d get yelled at quite a bit about it. And that was your ultimate clue that something wasn’t right,” he said.
“It makes me very paranoid,” says Gene Stringfield, a resident in the Gardens Assisted Living community. When we asked if he’d ever been solicited for his personal information, he reached for a letter he’d received that morning telling him if he made one phone call and entered in an ID number, he’d be placed in a drawing for two million dollars.
“I believe it’s some kind of a magazine deal. And what they’re trying to do is: I have to call in to validate my number, and then they’ll put me in for the drawing,” Stringfield says.
He’s turned over his banking to his daughter, so he doesn’t usually even get solicitations like this. He says the letter might make a great fire starter, but he doesn’t need to build a fire in June. He says he didn’t throw it away immediately because he’s just getting a good laugh out of it first.
“Oh, my response to this is nil,” Stringfield says, laughing.
But for many seniors who have been the victims of financial abuse, or identity theft, it’s no laughing matter. Stringfield says seniors are like everyone else in that when they hear a good deal, they just want a piece of the pie.
“We’re all looking for that ‘goodie bar.’ We’re all looking for something for nothing. And I’m just like everybody else. If I honestly thought that there was a chance in hell of getting that, you can bet I would have already called,” Stringfield says.
The director of the Gardens, Andrew McCormick, has another theory why seniors are among the most targeted people for financial abuse: it’s not that they’re unwise. It’s just that they’re very trusting.
“This may not be true in generations to come, but the generation we have now that are senior citizens, they come from a more trusting background. And they’re wise, but they’ve never had to worry about scam artists. They came from a time when everybody said what they were going to do, and said what they did,” McCormick says.
Experts say if a senior uses checks to pay his or her bills, it’s wise not to include a social security number or a phone number on the actual check.
Also, it’s advised to shred any trash that may contain personal information, like insurance forms, medical statements, and bank statements.
Consumers should always review bank account and credit card statements thoroughly as soon as they arrive. And if a statement is late in arriving, experts say it’s a good idea to call the company or bank and make sure they have the correct address.
Lastly, never give your personal information—whether bank account info, a social security number, or even a home address—to anyone you don’t know.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.