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Financial elder abuse is an epidemic.

Today, people aged 60 and older account for 35 percent of financial fraud reports, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Each year, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that criminals steal more than $36 billion from this age group.

Overall, the telephone remains the top method of initial contact for all types of fraud, with a whopping 70 percent of cases, reports the FTC. The next most popular method is email (10 percent), followed by websites (8 percent). Mail and other methods round out the remaining 12 percent.

The risk of financial fraud increases as a person ages for a variety of reasons, including intimidation and trusting the wrong people. The fraud is often low tech and relies simply on a single fraudster’s ability to get you talking or typing.

Scams come in myriad forms, categories and delivery channels, and many Cedar Valley residents have experienced them. Identity theft is frequently mentioned, because it accounts for nearly 19 percent of incidents reported to the FTC.

Meanwhile, “imposter” scams prey on emotions like love or fear. In one such scam, a fraudster poses as a romantic prospect, with the goal of convincing the victim to wire money in an emergency. Another occurs when a fraudster poses as an IRS agent and tells the victim he or she must resolve a tax obligation immediately.

Another particularly effective imposter scam occurs when a criminal poses as a grandchild. The typical script involves saying there’s been an accident or other emergency, which can be resolved via wire transfer of funds.

Often, financial elder abuse is compounded by the fact many victims don’t report the crimes and/or fraud losses, notes the National Council on Aging.

Seniors may not report financial abuse because they say they “feel stupid.” Some believe reporting the crime demonstrates they have an age-related decline in cognitive abilities.

Financial fraud is perpetrated against people of all ages, not just seniors. If you fall for a scam, it’s likely a sign that you’re a caring person with a desire to help others — not “stupid.”

Consider this: Such fears aid the fraudster. During the scam, a fraudster wants you to feel as if your suspicion is a silly thing that should be ignored. Afterward, the fraudster hopes silent embarrassment will provide enough time to escape — and scam again.

Don’t give in to your fears. We all make mistakes; these fraudsters are good at what they do. Reporting the crime can help stop this disgusting behavior.

You also can prevent financial elder abuses by safeguarding information and making wise choices. Don’t let someone else drive conversations; slow down and proceed at your pace. Ask for a call back number. Don’t fill in blanks or answer open-ended questions.

Remember: No legitimate situation requires fast decisions that compromise your personal information. Likewise, a trained professional will understand your caution.

We all must remember elder financial fraud is often subtle and even hidden — and tough to differentiate from legitimate behavior. When we as loved ones become suspicious, we too don’t want to “look stupid.”

What if I’m wrong? How do I help without taking over? Who do I tell? What if no one believes me? What if I lack evidence? What if my help is rebuffed?

In all these matters, faith-based communities and organizations help. These enclaves are uniquely positioned to put a major dent in crimes against older persons, through education and advocacy. That’s because they disseminate information quickly and initiate safe, open conversations.

This includes arming members with information about general risks and specific threats. Faith communities also assist in providing members with information. Such groups also can bridge gaps between victims and authorities.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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