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Baltimore Sun: Scammers using pandemic to target elderly during the pandemic Commentary

Known as the “silent crime of the 21st Century,” elder financial abuse is an increasingly complex problem. Every year, thousands of cases of financial exploitation of older and vulnerable adults are reported in Maryland alone, and only about one in 44 cases is ever reported to authorities, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.

What’s worse: Every day, criminals become more sophisticated in their efforts to fleece seniors of their hard-earned money. The average victim of elder financial abuse loses upward of $120,000.

In many ways, the COVID-19 health crisis has created a “perfect storm” for swindling.

Consumers in the U.S. have lost millions to coronavirus-related fraud this year, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network. And Maryland ranks among the states with the most fraud reported relating to the pandemic, according to a new Expert Insurance Reviews study. Since January, Marylanders have filed more than a thousand fraud reports to the Federal Trade Commission.

This trend suggests scammers are seeking to exploit the fears and uncertainty triggered by the pandemic. While anyone can be an easy target if not prepared, predators are pouncing at the opportunity to take advantage of “high risk” seniors who are preoccupied with avoiding the potentially deadly virus.

Although the reason behind their fraud is new, their tactics are familiar. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch scam coronavirus treatments while others employ fake emails or text messages to steal valuable personal information, under the guise of contact tracing. Some are using this major health event to create fake charities that take advantage of the generosity of older adults who may be looking for ways to financially support those affected by the pandemic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also warned about an increasing number of nonsense scams related to vaccines and test kits for COVID-19.

Because social distancing and quarantine have limited the opportunities for older adults to interact with their support systems, caregivers, and communities, it can be even harder to prevent falling prey to these scams or know that they may be happening to someone you love.

We must work together to protect our greatest generation and provide them with the tools necessary to stop these nefarious crooks in their tracks. This month, we’re asking you to join us in helping to protect older Marylanders from financial fraud and abuse.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, observed Monday, will kick off Maryland’s annual PROTECT Week (Protecting Older Americans from Financial Exploitation), held June 15-21, and will bring older adults, their families, and caregivers opportunities to learn about the under-reported, shameful and often preventable crime of elder financial abuse and exploitation.

Financial exploitation occurs when a person misuses or takes the assets of a vulnerable adult to benefit themselves. This frequently occurs without the explicit knowledge or consent of an older or vulnerable adult, depriving the victim of vital financial resources.

Providing families and caregivers with resources to recognize the signs of abuse and know whom to contact in case of suspicious activity is key to preventing this fraud. The PROTECT Week website (www.protectweek.org) provides a free content hub of interviews, articles and other resources for consumers focused on preventing and protecting against the financial exploitation of older Americans.

The weeklong campaign — now in its third year — is led by CCCSMD (Consumer Credit Counseling Services Maryland) in partnership with AARP Maryland, and made possible by a collaboration of public and private partners who share a common goal of preventing and remedying financial exploitation of older Marylanders, including the Maryland Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, Maryland Department of Aging, Maryland Department of Human Services, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, EverSafe, ElderSAFE, CHANA Baltimore, Baltimore County Restoring Elder Safety Today — BC REST Coalition, and Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition.

If you or someone you know are targeted by a scam, call the Department of Justice National Elder Fraud Hotline at (833) 372-8311. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams with its free “watchdog alerts," scam-tracking map, and toll-free fraud helpline at (877) 908-3360. The Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Division also offers a hotline, (410) 528-8662.

Robert Hur (usamd.comments@usdoj.gov) is U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland; Brian Frosh (oag@oag.state.md.us) is Maryland Attorney General and Peter Franchot (pfranchot@comp.state.md.us) is Maryland Comptroller. Helene Raynaud (hraynaud@cccsmd.org), president of CCCSMD, and Hank Greenberg (md@aarp.org), the Maryland State Director for AARP, also contributed.

https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-op-0615-elder-abuse-20200615-xhnenofi5ze6xptile3keumtpy-story.html


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