Expert: Women age 75-80 living alone prime scam targets

Scenarios ripe for elder abuse are described at event

Robert “Bob” Blancato, executive director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services programs and the national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, speaks at “Cherish our Kupuna, a Conference on Elder Justice and Protection” at the Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort on Friday. -- The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

WAILEA — The average profile of an elder abuse victim in the U.S. is a woman 75 to 80 years old living alone, said national aging and public service advocate Robert “Bob” Blancato.

“Pretend for a moment you are that older woman, you’ve been home all day, nobody to talk to, you haven’t seen a soul, the phone rings at 4 o’clock. Who is on the other end of that phone? A scammer,” Blancato said.

Then the scammer says: ”Congratulations, you have just won the Jamaican lottery. Just send $200 in processing fees and your big check will come next week.”

In another instance, someone will drive up to the older woman’s home saying that a tree limb is close to coming down through her roof, but with some money the scammer can bring some equipment to remove that danger.

The U.S. Census Bureau says that 47 percent of all women 75 to 80 years old now live alone in America.

“You can see the cause and effect,” Blancato said.

Blancato, the executive director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs and the national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, presented the scenarios and statistics Friday morning at the “Cherish our Kupuna, A Conference on Elder Justice and Protection” at the Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.

The event, which hosted Blancato and several other speakers, was supported by the state’s Executive Office on Aging, Elder Abuse Funds and put on by the Maui County Office on Aging, a division of the county’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns.

The conference, which attracted about 150 people, was held one day prior to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which was Saturday. The day, held every year on June 15, is to raise awareness of older adults who experience elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

As many as 1 in 10 older Americans are abused or neglected each year and only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse come to the attention of authorities, according to the Administration for Community Living website.

Blancato, who was the chairman of the American Society on Aging from 2016 to 2018 and is currently on the AARP national board, said more needs to be done to protect the elderly.

“Remember this, this day (World Elder Abuse Awareness Day) has no value if we just deal with this one day,” he said. “You have to be consistent to do advocacy to make change happen.”

Blancato said the elderly are abused and taken advantage of in many ways, including the robocalls, the fake grandchildren calls that try to get money and those scam calls from the IRS.

“The federal government never calls you,” he said.

Other scams and abuses come over the internet, disproving the belief that senior citizens are not on the web.

In 2017, a FBI report said that some 50,000 people over the age of 60 lost more than $342 million just to internet fraud and scams.

He added that a recent published report based on research from a United Kingdom consumer research organization noted that senior citizens may lose nearly 25 times more to scammers than what is reported.

This would translate into 5 million victims a year with aggregate losses of more than $27 billion.

Blancato pointed out that elder abuse also can come from family members, business associates and those who care for the elderly. He recalled a case brought up at a congressional hearing in which a woman died in a nursing home because of neglect.

The woman died because she was dehydrated for more than a week. He said the “kicker” was that the nursing home got a high rating from the federal government for its quality.

There are laws to protect patients and to regulate care, but Blancato said at times they are not being followed.

“Elder abuse affects everybody” and those from “all walks of life,” Blancato said. He pointed to the late actor Mickey Rooney, who testified before Congress in 2011 before his death about how a family member took and misused his money.

Another abuse case involved the former business manager to Stan Lee, the late Marvel Comics mogul. The manager was charged with elder abuse last month. It involved theft, embezzlement, forgery or fraud against an elder adult, and false imprisonment of an elder adult.

The opioid crisis also is enveloping elders in abuse. In North Carolina, an addicted grandson stole opioids from his grandparents. When confronted by the grandfather, the grandchild assaulted him. It took a protective order to stop the abuse, Blancato said.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, types of elder abuse include physical, emotional, sexual, exploitation, neglect, abandonment and self-neglect.

The NCEA says that most cases of elder abuse go undetected and that people should call their the local Adult Protective Services agency. For Maui County, the number is 243-5151.

But if in a life-threatening situation or in immediate danger, call 911.

To report suspected abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility, go to the website www.ltcombudsman.org/ombudsman to find the state-specific agency to file a report with as well as other aging service contacts.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.