Every year, thousands of older Americans fall victim to financial scammers. Some of these criminals are strangers, but often these nefarious crimes are committed by family members or friends. The first line of defense in preventing these fraudulent acts is education, and that brings me to Protect Week.
Protect Week, which this year runs from June 13-19, is an annual event that coincides with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to educate Marylanders about elder financial exploitation and to equip them with the necessary tools to help victims of these debilitating crimes.
Four years ago, I partnered with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, the Maryland Department of Aging, AARP, Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Maryland, Elder Safe, and many others, in founding Protect Week to bring attention to this common, yet often unreported crime.
Only one in 44 victims of elder fraud file a police report, and the average loss is $120,000. Victims are reluctant to notify law enforcement or others due to embarrassment from being duped.
More importantly, victims often face severe and lasting financial loss that can’t be recouped since many have already retired and live on a fixed income. Consequently, their standard of living declines, their ability to pay for food, medication and other expenses is jeopardized and it could impair their mental and physical well-being.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, fraudsters have significantly stepped up their attacks and scams, with vulnerable seniors as their primary target.
I am urging seniors to keep their elbows up and remember some important tips:
· Don’t answer telephone calls from people you don’t know;
· Don’t click links in emails or text messages;
· Reconcile bank, insurance and medical statements;
· Never share your personal information, Medicare or Social Security numbers by phone or email; and
· If you are concerned about a financial decision, speak to someone you trust before handing over money.
Lastly, I want to share an old adage: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your research, consult with knowledgeable and trustworthy people, and don’t be pressured into making a decision you don’t understand or haven’t fully considered.
Together, we can prevent elder financial exploitation by educating seniors, families and caregivers and providing them with the resources they need to fight this reprehensible crime. I urge everyone to visit www.protectweek.org to find out how to protect against elder fraud, read about the latest scams, see the full listing of Protect Week events and much more.
Peter Franchot is the 33rd comptroller of Maryland.
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