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Help protect seniors from financial scams | READER COMMENTARY

Jenny Lawless, of South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a grocery store employee, assists customer Frank Becker as he makes a Western Union transaction in 2011. She previously spotted a scam and refused to allow an 84-year-old man to wire more than $5,000 from the store's Western Union counter. File. (Monica Cabrera/The Morning Call).
Jenny Lawless, of South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a grocery store employee, assists customer Frank Becker as he makes a Western Union transaction in 2011. She previously spotted a scam and refused to allow an 84-year-old man to wire more than $5,000 from the store's Western Union counter. File. (Monica Cabrera/The Morning Call). (MONICA CABRERA / THE MORNING CALL)

Every year, thousands of older Americans fall victim to financial scammers. Some of these criminals are strangers, but often they are committed by family members or friends. The first line of defense in preventing these fraudulent acts is education; that’s where PROTECT Week comes in (”Massive international fraud tricked seniors into sending money to criminals in Baltimore, federal indictment says,” March 26).

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.

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Financial exploitation occurs when a person misuses or takes the assets of a vulnerable adult to benefit themselves, frequently without the explicit knowledge or consent of the victim.

In 2018, the Maryland Comptroller’s office, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, the Maryland Department of Aging, AARP, Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Maryland, ELDER Safe, and many other organizations partnered to establish PROTECT Week to bring attention to this common, yet often unreported crime. Only one in 44 victims of elder fraud file a police report as they are often too ashamed to notify law enforcement and the average loss is an astounding $120,000.

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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.

In the past year, U.S. consumers have lost millions of dollars to coronavirus-related fraud. The deadly virus has taken the lives of 600,000 Americans — many of them seniors — and predators have taken advantage of older Americans’ anxiety over the virus.

During PROTECT Week, we urge seniors, caregivers and family members to join us for one of the many free events planned, like the virtual news conference on Monday at 2 p.m., streamed live on AARP-Maryland’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/aarpmd/).

Check the full list of PROTECT Week events, including tele-town halls and webinars at www.protectweek.org, and learn important tips and information to protect yourself and loved ones from elder fraud. Together, we can prevent elder financial exploitation by providing seniors and caregivers with the knowledge and resources they need.

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If you or someone you know is a victim of elder fraud, call the Department of Justice National Elder Fraud Hotline at (833) 372-8311. AARP Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams with its free watchdog alerts, scam-tracking map and a toll-free fraud helpline at (877) 908-3360.

Peter Franchot, Annapolis

Hank Greenburg, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, comptroller of Maryland and the Maryland state director for AARP.

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