October 23, 2021

Disrespecting the elders

New study shows 10% of senior citizens likely to suffer abuse

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman looks through a pamphlet Friday on protecting personal information. A recent Cornell University study shows more than 1 in 10 New York seniors will face elder abuse, and financial abuse such as scams is the leading form of it.

Laura Eaton, of Cortland, is no stranger to attempts of elder abuse or mistreatment.

Eaton said she has been the target of many attempts by scam artists to get money.

She has been lucky not to fall for the ploys, but others, including one of her friends, have been victims.

Still, Eaton’s experiences are neither uncommon nor isolated. According to a recent study involving staff from Cornell University and the University of Toronto, more than 1 in 10 senior adults in the state may become victims of elder abuse or mistreatment over the next decade.

Abuse and mistreatment can come in different forms — physical, emotional and financial. And it can come from different sources — family, caregivers and even strangers. Still, the report stated that financial abuse was the most prevalent among participants.

In places like Cortland and Homer, that can take the form of scams, said Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman.

As more than 350,000 senior adults in the state may experience some form of elder abuse or mistreatment, Pitman and Eaton share their experiences, what it looks like locally and what can be done to prevent future victims.

To see the prevalence of elder abuse or mistreatment in the state, 628 residents age 60 or older were surveyed in 2010 and again in 2019, according to an article by the Cornell Chronicle on an Aug.12 study from JAMA Network Open.

The residents were contacted via phone calls about their exposures to mistreatment, including:

  • Financial abuse.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse.
  • Physical abuse.
  • Neglect.

The report found 11.4% of respondents reported experiencing some kind of abuse or mistreatment over the 10-year period.

Those findings were similar to the one-year prevalence rate at 9.5% in larger studies across the country, the report said.

“Together, these findings suggest that approximately 1 in 10 older adults are either experiencing EM (elder mistreatment) at any given time or will experience EM for the first time over a 10-year period,” the report said.

People over 65 account for about 17% of Cortland County’s 46,809-person population, U.S. Census data show. Ten percent of that figure would be nearly 800 seniors experiencing abuse.

Of the kinds of abuse reported, financial abuse ranked highest at 8.5%, followed by emotional abuse at 4.1%, physical abuse at 2.3% and neglect at 1%, according to the report.

In terms of statewide abuse, the prevalence translates to more than 360,000 people over 10 years.

Older adults who lived alone were at an increased risk of financial abuse than those who lived with a spouse or partner, the report found.

“Living alone may be associated with increased risk of financial abuse, specifically if a protective spouse or partner is not present to help manage household finances and others external to the household are required to access personal accounts,” the report said.

Additionally, those who were in poor health in 2010 were more likely to experience mistreatment of some form in 2019.

Black and non-white Hispanics were also more likely to experience mistreatment — most notably financial abuse — than whites. The report, however, does not explain why.

Eaton has learned to recognize when she is being targeted by a scam, one form of elder abuse.

This in part came when she attended an event hosted a few years ago by Access to Independence of Cortland County, Inc., she said. The event presented different scams and ways people may try to get money from others and ways to prevent that, she said.

Eaton has also watched educational videos on YouTube presenting similar information.

The Cortland County Area Agency on Aging, which provides similar information, did not respond to requests for comment.

Real life experiences, though, have helped her become more aware of scams, how to identify them and how to prevent getting scammed.

Once, she missed a call when she was attending church. When she called back after church, a message said the number had been disconnected.

Additionally, she’s received suspicious-looking letters for gutter cleaning services. The problem? She lives in a senior housing apartment.

She has been lucky, though, not falling for a scam, she said. One of her friends once lost thousands of dollars after a scammer claiming to work with Microsoft offered to remove and prevent viruses on her friend’s computer for a fee.

When the friend realized it was fake, the scammer said that she needed to give her bank card number to have the problem fixed, stealing more money.

“She paid a lot of money for this protection when it was a big scam,” Eaton said.

Though Eaton has learned when she is getting scammed, telling the scammers not to call her back hasn’t been successful. One day, she got five calls from scam artists.

Sometimes, she will mess with the scammers as a joke, but that doesn’t stop her resentment of their attempts to financially abuse elders.

“I think they’re wrong,” she said. “I don’t think they should be doing that.”

Like Eaton, Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman said most forms of financial abuse come in the form of a phone, email or mail scam to solicit money from unsuspecting seniors.

These come in many different forms like:

  • A phone caller claiming to be from the IRS and telling the receivers they are being audited and must provide financial information or call a certain number.
  • A scammer calling, claiming to be with a power company and threatening to turn off power unless the receiver provides information like bank card numbers.
  • A scammer claiming the person won a free vacation or cruise, but have to provide personal financial information to claim the prize.

“These scam artists are really good,” Pitman said. “They’ve got a whole list of what they tell people.”

Perhaps one of the crueler ones, a scam artist will call seniors, claiming to be their grandchild and that they’ve been arrested, he said. From there, the artist says the senior must send money to a specific location to make bail.

Not knowing and wanting to do best for their “grandchild,” the senior resident complies.

“The suspects take advantage of them because of their good heart,” Pitman said.

Others though have been able to prevent senior citizens in Homer from being scammed.

In 2019, Postal Service inspectors prevented $9,000 in checks going to a scammer. The targeted individual? An elderly man in the village of Homer.

Postal Service workers and bank tellers have notified the police department when large orders or requests for large withdrawals have been requested for strange reasons, Pitman said.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed how people are being scammed or the frequency at which they are being scammed, he said.

“We’re fortunate we don’t get a lot as compared to other jurisdictions,” Pitman said.

His tips for how to prevent being scammed? If it’s a phone call from an unrecognized source, hang up. For emails and mail, just ignore them.

Additionally, if you think you’ve been scammed, call the police.

What to watch for
Elder abuse comes in different forms including physical, emotional and financial. Signs that someone is being abused include:

  • Stopping doing activities they normally enjoy.
  • Weight loss.
  • Having an eviction notice or other bills requiring payment.

To learn more about types, signs and ways to prevent abuse, go to tinyurl.com/ rrext328.