“l am 30 years old from France. l really need your assistance. l lost my husband two years ago and the family members are after me and my two kids just because of the legacy he left for us in a Bank, 1 am now in a hiding place with my two kids and the documents of inheritance is with us. can i trust you to secure this legacy and have it transferred to your country and we will fly to join you. l will be waiting for your reply.”

Obviously, this e-mail that I received the other day is a scam. I get at least a handful of similar solicitations daily.

Scams are a scourge, especially for older adults. The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse 2015 calculates that the elderly lose more than $36 billion each year. Breaking down the numbers, almost $17 billion is stolen through financial exploitation (taking advantage of cognitive decline and memory to the elderly); nearly $13 billion from criminal fraud (scams and identity theft); and about $7 billion from caregiver abuse, usually family.

Federal and state officials need to make combating elder financial abuse a bigger priority, although there has been progress in recent years. The problem will get worse with the aging of the population. There are difficult trade-offs to sort through, too. The legal issues can be tricky when it comes to protecting elders from fraud while respecting their independence.

Meanwhile, the National Council on Aging and the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement offer these tips to protect yourself or an older adult you know:

1. Be aware that you are at risk from strangers, and from those closest to you.

2. Don’t isolate yourself — stay involved.

3. Tell solicitors: “I never buy from [or give to] anyone who calls or visits me unannounced. Send me something in writing.”

4. Shred all receipts with your credit card number.

5. Sign up for the “Do Not Call” list and take yourself off multiple mailing lists.

6. Use direct deposit for benefit checks to prevent checks from being stolen from the mailbox.

7. Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.

8. Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers.

Yes, these are common-sense reminders. They are also good habits to inculcate. If you think you have been scammed or feel vulnerable to fraud, reach out to your community. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed. It takes a community to fight elder fraud.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.