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Scamming the Seniors


Scamming the Seniors

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As a banker and security expert, Rick Morton knows the importance of safeguarding finances. As a bivocational chaplain to senior citizens, he also recognizes the need for churches to watch out for their most vulnerable parishioners.

“Elder abuse is a growing and insidious threat,” says Morton, an assistant vice president and compliance and security officer for Brattleboro Savings and Loan in Vermont, and an endorsed Assemblies of God U.S. Missions chaplain at Vernon Advent Christian Home, a Vermont retirement community.

While all sorts of people are targets for scams in the internet age, the elderly seem particularly vulnerable.

“I have seen an increase in the variety of scams targeting resources seniors are relying on to live out their remaining days,” Morton says.

Financial exploitation — which can include anything from an unauthorized bank withdrawal to a third-party scam — costs older Americans more than $2.6 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  National Center on Elder Abuse. The agency indicates those with dementia and other cognitive impairments are especially vulnerable, suffering 100 percent greater economic losses than those without incapacities.

In a Gallup poll last year, approximately one-third of financial investors surveyed said they worry about the financial abuse or exploitation of older family members or close friends. Roughly the same number of investors reported personally knowing a victim of financial abuse or scams targeting the elderly.

In fact, nearly one in five Americans 65 and older has been taken advantage of financially, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit Public Policy Polling for the Investor Protection Trust.

“The scammers and fraudsters do not just target the wealthy, but also those with limited resources, often draining away what little they have,” Morton says. “Isaiah 1:17 calls us to defend the oppressed. We should have an attitude of vigilance in protecting our congregations and our community.”

Morton says churches can help equip seniors and their caregivers and family members so they can avoid becoming victims.

“Churches are in a marvelous position to be of assistance to the seniors in their congregation,” Morton says. “Banks are the primary financial watchdogs of their customers, but churches can offer support in a variety of ways, such as sounding the alarm about this problem and providing education. Churches should consider partnering with local financial institutions to offer training.”

Even simple steps, such as locking up sensitive financial information when visitors are in the home and ordering an annual credit report, can go a long way toward keeping assets more secure, according to the American Bankers Association.

Sally Michaud, a retired AG U.S. Missions chaplain who previously ministered at an Air Force retirement community in Crestview, Florida, says many seniors look first to the Church for guidance and support as they navigate life decisions.

“The Church has a responsibility to help their senior members in any way they can,” says Michaud, 76. “The Church is one of the major contacts that senior citizens have — and for some, it’s the only contact they have outside their home.”

Pictured: Rick Morton (right) counsels a senior customer about financial scam dangers

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