Teaching Doctors to Diagnose a Grandma Money Scam

Senior scams and abuse
Senior scams and abuse

It's sad to say, but the elderly are easy prey -- especially for financial scammers.

The elderly often have more assets to attract the attention of those looking for victims. And as people get older, many become a little less sharp, and sometimes considerably weaker, in terms of mental faculties. According to a 2008 Duke University study, about 35% of the 25 million people over age 71 in the U.S. suffer from mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease.

Available assets, vulnerable mental state -- it's the perfect recipe for con artists and scammers who can come in and offer "assistance."

Consider these troubling statistics from the folks at StatisticBrain.com, MetLife (MET), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

  • It's estimated that about 10% of the elderly population was abused in some way in 2010 -- that's nearly 6 million cases.

  • Nearly $3 billion is lost annually to financial abuse of the elderly.

  • Between 2008 and 2010, the amount of money swindled from the elderly rose by 12%.

  • Women are nearly twice as likely to be victims as men.

  • Physical and financial abuse were the second and third most common kinds of abuse, at 16% and 12% of cases, respectively.

It's not all bad news, though. The more aware we are, the more we can do about this problem. While June 15 was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, there's plenty you can do to make sure that the older folks in our lives do not become victims of physical or financial abuse.

Families need to be vigilant with the older folks we care about, keeping an eye out for signs that our loved ones aren't taken advantage of. For example, If you're privy to checkbooks or bank statements, look for unusual transactions, such as large or out-of-the-ordinary payments, perhaps to a caretaker or stranger. (Here are some other signs of abuse that can signal that grandma is being scammed.)

Now, thanks to a new program, you have more people getting trained to spot your loved ones signs of trouble, too.

A New Weapon in the War on Elder Financial Abuse

Doctors and those in the medical field are being trained to be aware of signs of trouble. The nonprofit Investor Protection Trust, for example, has trained 3,000 medical professionals in the U.S. to spot impaired mental capacity in patients. This can be a powerful way to get them help and prevent them from being swindled.

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There are other professions that can also help keep an eye on our loved ones. The National Center on Elder Abuse, for example, encourages people to urge their banks to train their tellers to look for signs of financial abuse of the elderly.

Religious leaders can also play a part, teaching their congregations about the issue and looking out for signs of abuse in their flocks.

The newly created Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is even soliciting consumer input on the issue to get a sense of what resources are available (or need to be created) to help the elderly avoid financial fraud.

Learn more:

Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, holds no position in any company mentioned.