George Edward of Bellingham is on a mission to help seniors avoid becoming victims of fraud.
“Every time I have come across a victim of fraud, often an elderly widow, I ask myself what I would do if this was my own mother,” he says,
Until he retired in February, Edward was the risk management officer for Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU). During that time he developed the WECUSAFE program, designed to fight the financial exploitation of senior citizens.
He also recently published a book on the topic, titled “How to Steal from Mom; A Wake-up Call for Seniors.”
Edward says his book is written for seniors and their families, as well as for financial institutions interested in developing a program like WECUSAFE.
“We need to spread the word about the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults,” he says. “As more seniors retire on fixed incomes, and more seniors become totally dependent on others, the number of elderly victims of financial abuse will only grow.”
In six years of managing the WECUSAFE program, Edward trained WECU’s frontline staff, from call center employees to loan officers, to recognize and report the red flags of financial abuse. During that time, 82 financial abuse cases were reported to him for investigation.
Eighty-one percent of the victims were female, with an average age of 82 years. And in 75 percent of the cases the exploiter was an adult son or daughter of the victim.
“In my experience, the typical victim does not read or understand his or her monthly statement, and implicitly trusts the son or daughter with the fiduciary responsibility of managing his or her finances,” Edward says. “Unfortunately, in some families this can be a big mistake.”
Exploitation by a relative is only one of a number of common frauds targeting seniors.
The Washington State Attorney General’s website has a long list of scams that target seniors, from identity theft, to fraudulent anti-aging products, to the “relative in need” scam.
Seniors are especially vulnerable, according to a study conducted by AARP. The people who commit such crimes target older people because they are most likely to have substantial savings and excellent credit. They also tend to be polite and trusting, a result of being part of what Edwards calls the “handshake generation.”
Seniors are also less likely to report a fraud because they might be ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t realize they have been victimized. They also might be concerned that relatives will think they no longer have the capacity to care for themselves.
“I’ve seen firsthand the impact and the devastation that fraud has had on elderly people,” Edward says, “and I’m determined to help protect them.”
Linda Shindruk is a Whatcom County writer.
Title: “How to Steal from Mom; A Wake-Up Call for Seniors”
Author: George F. Edward, of Bellingham
Available: Village Books, 360-671-2626 and villagebooks.com.
SCAMS, AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
The Washington Attorney General’s website at atg.wa.gov/senior-fraud, and the FBI’s at www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors both offer long list of scams that victimize seniors, as well as red flags and tips on how to avoid them. Some examples:
▪ Any time someone asks you to send money by Western Union or MoneyGram, it’s invariably a scam. You also might be asked to send a check or money order by overnight delivery.
▪ Don’t volunteer information over the telephone. Always ask callers to identify themselves by name, and ask people who contact you to provide information that only you and people close to you would know.
▪ If you have wired money and it hasn’t been picked up yet, call the wire transfer service to cancel the transaction. Once the money has been picked up, there is no way to get it back.
▪ Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Criminals often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch. Scammers can use that information to empty your bank accounts.
▪ Create online passwords that are long and strong, by combining upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.
▪ Never pay anything for a “free prize” or lottery winnings. If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is breaking federal law.
▪ Never pay in advance for services. Pay only after services have been delivered.
▪ If you or a relative have been scammed, report it by contacting local law enforcement, or contact the Washington Attorney General’s office at 800-551-4636 or atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.