It’s something of a myth that crimes against the elderly involve a young man yanking a little old lady’s purse off her arm as she walks to the grocery store. Crimes perpetrated against senior citizens are far more complicated and can often go undetected as elder abuse can occur in private.
“Certainly what we’re seeing now is criminals are getting more sophisticated in how they go after the elderly,” said Michelle Boykins, Director of Communications and Marketing at the National Crime Prevention Council (www.ncpc.org). “Elder abuse is a crime that’s been growing been growing over the past several years.”
There are numerous reasons that elder abuse – which is a term that includes anything from physical harm to financial fraud against elderly people – is growing. One reason, says Boykins, is the longer life expectancy people now have and therefore a larger population of people in their senior years.
“The scope of the problem is quite large,” said Georgia Aneztberger, President of the National Committee for Prevention of Elder Abuse (www.preventelderabuse.org). “It was originally thought that one out of every 20 older people experienced some elder abuse on an annual basis. Now it appears to be one out of every 10 older people experience this kind of problem.”
The primary type of elder abuse is financial crimes, with an estimated $2.9 billion taken from the elderly in the United States in 2011, according to Anetzberger.
Whether the crime is financial or physical, the reality is that it can sometimes be perpetrated by people close to the victim.
“Most caregivers – whether family, friends, or individuals who work in field of aging – most of them do the best job they can and are not abusive or neglectful in any way,” Anetzberger said. “It’s the unusual circumstance when the alternative, a crime, occurs.”
The elderly may be more susceptible to crimes or elder abuse because they are on their own after a spouse dies, they might not be able to maintain a home like they did before, they might have people close to them involved in drugs, and they are often alone. Whatever the reason for the vulnerability, Anetzberger has tips on how to prevent crimes against the elderly:
1. “Have a large social network,
” she said. “If you have this kind of network, others who can observe what’s going on, if something goes wrong, others you can turn to for assistance.
2. “Hold in reserve a certain skepticism,”
she said. “Somebody might ordinarily be a great neighbor, but their situation changes and they see opportunities and it’s inappropriate.”
3. Plan ahead.
“Think out who might be the people you turn to for legal assistance,” Anetzberger said. One place to start for this is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (www.naela.org).
4. Make a call.
“Across this country there is an adult protective services system in every state,” she said. Either a caregiver or a person who is being cared for can contact their local adult protective services with their concerns about the possibility of elder abuse. Anetzberger says if it is clear a crime is or has been committed then the police should be notified.
One of the more common crimes against the elderly are frauds and scams that can reach them in person, over the phone, through the mail, and possibly through online sources.
“Typically most crimes against the elderly are frauds, scams, things that are designed to bilk them out of their financial means,” Boykins said. “The elderly are vulnerable from a financial standpoint because they have their retirement built up and it makes them susceptible to telemarketing schemes.”
These scams tempt seniors because they are on a fixed income and might be concerned about day-to-day living expenses. They see the scheme as a solution to their worries, she added.
“One of the very first things that we say about scams is: If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is,” Boykins said.
Her prevention tips for people tempted by these scams is to ask for all of the information in writing, refuse to sign anything when the sales pitch is made, and check out the company with the Better Business Bureau.
For additional tips on preventing crimes against the elderly, visit the National Crime Prevention Council website at www.ncpc.org.