What drew your interest in elder abuse?
I was fascinated by con artists as a kid. When I was in college I was a police officer and found that most of the cases involving fraud were not prosecuted. I thought it was terrible that the people who could least afford to lose what they have (seniors) were being victimized and nobody was doing very much about it. After selling my company, I decided to address law enforcement issues by writing nonfiction books about sociopaths and con artists. I’ve written five books on that topic and I’ve trained the FBI and other law enforcement entities about senior fraud.
I spend a lot of time focused on senior fraud because I think it’s a huge problem that needs to be addressed.
Why do you think elder fraud is such an enormous problem?
Senior fraud is out of control because a huge percentage of the population is aging, but without having knowledge of the internet, computers, or software. A number of seniors who spend time on the computer don’t understand how social media and other websites work. Many folks mistakenly believe that when they go online, they are in a protected area. This may not be vigilant, and they may share their personal information. Many folks don’t realize how easily crooks can find personal information through social media, and how easily they are able to steal someone’s identity.
Why and how do exploiters prey on seniors?
The criminals who prey on seniors are heartless sociopaths with no conscience or feelings. Seniors own a good deal of the nation’s wealth; their mortgages are paid and they have disposable income.
A con man likes a lonely senior with a huge bank account; especially if it’s someone in need of a caregiver. Some scammers pretend to be relatives, exploiting the lonely. The so-called “caregiver” intercepts mail, gets credit card info, and steals personal information.
Attacks can also be made by planting Trojans on the computer, compromising the victim’s information. Internet fraud is also enabled by an internet user’s lack of defense. Many seniors, and some younger adults, use one password for all their internet privacy—making hacking all the easier.
It can be challenging to investigate and prosecute elder fraud, especially with vulnerable victims. If a senior suffers from memory loss, it can be difficult to obtain accurate information.
How would you tackle this problem?
It can get ugly fast if seniors are not educated about these things. We need to do everything in our power to protect them. There needs to be a huge movement to educate seniors about fraud.
Instead of pop ups that lead to malware, why not have pop ups that lead to some advice about how to avoid being scammed, or warnings about the dangers of putting personal information on Facebook, or ways to prevent being exploited online.
Do you have tips to prevent exploitation?
First of all seniors should use multiple passwords. If they have to write them down, keep the password information in a safe place, preferably in a locked safe in your home or a safety deposit box at your bank.
Don’t give personal information over the phone unless you originate the call (like if you’re calling Social Security or your doctor’s office). If somebody’s calling you and you’re not sure of who is on the other end of that phone, do not give your personal information.
Check your bank statements and credit card statements as soon as they come in. Check to see if there’s any unusual behavior on your account.
Check your checkbooks (especially if there are caregivers in the home)—crooks will remove checks from the back of the check book and cash the checks without seniors realizing anything is missing.
When on the internet, don’t click on pop-ups, and don’t click on emails that come from unknown people—this can lead to disaster.
If you are offered a “deal,” you should be skeptical. Do your due diligence. Is someone making you an offer that seems to good to be true? Talk to someone you trust (financial planner, attorney, accountant.) and consider seeking advice when considering a large financial investment. I tell people at senior fraud workshops, if you’re over 65, consider having another set of eyeballs review everything that you’re signing–especially when it comes to financial matters.
Chuck Whitlock is a professional speaker, author, producer, and investigative correspondent. He exposes and informs others about fraud through teaching seminars and workshops. He has written several books on fraud, including Age without Rage, which explains how seniors can protect themselves and their assets from disaster by preventing scams. For more information on Chuck Whitlock and his books got to chuckwhitlock.com/.