Fraud and financial abuse against the elderly is on the rise with the increased ability of fraudsters to prey on the vulnerable using online technology. Social workers can play a vital role in helping educate their aging clients who are less tech-savvy to prevent fraud and abuse. Such abuse can be devastating, not only to individuals, but to their entire families as well.
The State of the Aging Population
We are in the midst of an aging epidemic. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the older population, meaning persons 65 years or over, numbered 46.2 million in 2014. Seniors represented 14.5 percent of the U.S. population or about one in every seven Americans. However, by 2060, there will be approximately 98 million Americans aged over 65, more than twice the number in 2014.
While most people typically associate social work with children and families, this rapidly growing population of senior citizens is making the field of geriatric social work more important than ever before.
Seniors and Financial Loss
The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse revealed that the annual financial loss of elderly victims is at least $2.9 billion. Scams that the elderly can fall prey to are frighteningly many, including Medicare, funeral and mortgage scams, fake telemarketing, investment schemes and even counterfeit prescription drugs. The elderly are at particular risk of falling for internet scams, which are ever more prevalent, often due to a lack of familiarity with emerging technologies.
The MetLife report found that women are nearly twice as likely to be victims as men. Most victims were between the ages of 80 and 89, lived alone and required some level of help with either health care or home maintenance.
“In almost all of the cases, there existed a combination of tenuous, valued independence and observable vulnerability that merged in the lives of victims to optimize opportunities for abuse by every type of perpetrator – from the closest family members to professional criminals,” the report said.
Other factors besides age alone can contribute, including substance abuse – either on the part of the senior or the perpetrator – or diminished mental capacity from conditions such as dementia.
Top Reasons Seniors Are Targets for Fraud
According to the FBI, seniors are most commonly targeted for financial fraud schemes and scams due to:
- The “Nest Egg” – Senior citizens are most likely to own their home and have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to cyber (and non-cyber) criminals.
- Trusting – Those who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting — traits that can be easily exploited.
- Less Likely to Report Crime – The most common reason senior citizens are less likely to report a fraud because they simply don’t know who to report it to or don’t know they have been scammed. In cases where an elderly client may be struggling for their independence, elderly victims may not report crimes because they are concerned that relatives may think they no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
- Memory Loss – When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Fraudsters know the effects of age on memory, lack of technology skill and savviness, and are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators.
How Social Workers Can Help The Aging Population Prevent Fraud
Social workers can provide technology guidance and education directly, or working with supporting family members who can manage online accounts, digital payments, cloud settings or smartphone access. also help facilitate services that address the underlying causes of any abuse, stop the abuse happening, and reduce the likelihood that it will happen again.
Social workers can also act as advocates for the elderly, protecting their interests and, where possible, educating clients about potential dangers. These social workers specialize in aging and are often refered to as Geriatric Social Workers.
What Is a Geriatric Social Worker?
The job of social workers when it comes to aging clients involves working closely with other medical, health care and social service providers to help seniors manage and improve their lives. They do this by addressing a wide range of social, psychological, environmental, practical and physical health care needs.
Geriatric social workers are trained in the specific needs of this demographic, including how to help protect the elderly from those who may try to take advantage of them financially.
Where Is a Geriatric Social Worker Employed?
Unsurprisingly, there are many nursing social work jobs. Geriatric social workers are found in nursing homes, senior centers and assisted living facilities. They also work across government agencies, private counseling practices and social services.
Although only a bachelor’s degree is required to be a geriatric social worker, most employers will give preference to individuals who have earned a master’s degree.