CINCINNATI, OH – It is an all-too-common scenario: older Americans save conscientiously for retirement, only to be exploited in the early stages of dementia, their bank accounts depleted or diminished by scammers or unscrupulous relatives.

And the pandemic has only made the situation worse. Americans over 60 lost more to internet crime in 2020 than any other age group – nearly $1 billion, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics.

“We have all been isolated and lonely, and a senior is very vulnerable when the phone rings and someone hasn’t spoken to someone all day,” Danielle Murphy, consumer advocate for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said. “These scammers are so cunning and convincing, and once the money is gone, it’s gone.”

The Attorney General’s Office is teaming up with the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Cincinnati Chapter to combat the growing statewide problem. Murphy will present a virtual “Senior Scams” program Monday, May 10, from 6-7:30 p.m., outlining common scams and ways to avoid them.

The event is a continuation of the Alzheimer’s Association’s long history of working with families whose loved ones with dementia have fallen victim to scammers, according to Cincinnati’s program director, Melissa Dever.

“During the early stages of dementia individuals are at great risk of becoming victims to a scam, as their reasoning, decision-making ability and discernment are greatly affected,” Dever said. “It’s important that caregivers and families understand the threat of scams to their loved ones with dementia, so they can take steps to protect them.”

Murphy warns that consumers should watch out for any calls, emails or pop-ups requesting wire transfers, prepaid money cards, or gift cards; requests for personal information; pressure to act immediately; and insistence on secrecy.

Frequently-used tactics include the grandparent scam, in which the caller pretends to be a grandchild with an emergency need for money; the computer repair scam, requesting remote access to your computer; the income tax scam, claiming you owe back taxes; the romance scam, in which a stranger cultivates an online relationship; and the prizes/sweepstakes scam, asking for advance fees or taxes in exchange for receiving a prize.

“If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is,” Murphy said. “If you didn’t enter the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, then you probably didn’t win it.”

Her top prevention tip: Don’t answer an incoming call when you don’t recognize the number.

Seniors are targeted more than other age groups, Murphy said, because they have more assets, they are less likely to report the crime because of potential embarrassment, and they have a generational tendency to be more trusting and polite. Seniors with dementia are particularly at risk, Dever said.

“The disease by nature causes people to withdraw. When someone calls, they are eager to talk to them and they are easily deceived into thinking these people are their friends.”

The psychological blow can be as severe as the financial losses. “It makes them feel even more incapable of caring for themselves and adds to their depression and poor self-image,” Dever said.

Families should consider getting involved in finances the moment they begin to notice issues with cognition, Dever said. “We suggest families approach this subject with compassion,” she said. “Explain to the individual you have noticed changes in cognition and would like to help them with their finances to ensure they do not overdraw their account or are not taken advantage of by scammers.”

Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 has trained staff ready to answer any questions that family members have about their loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

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