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Docs to screen seniors for fraud

A new program will enlist the help of medical professionals to identify seniors who are most vulnerable. But we can all help.

By Karen Datko Jun 18, 2010 5:34PM

People in our line of work often see stories like these: "Medicare recipients target of new scam." "Elderly Kansas couple lose heavily to scam." "Elderly couple targeted by timeshare fraud." And that's just a few we noticed today.

 

And then there's this one: "Medical professionals will try to spot elderly fraud victims." The McClatchy Newspapers story says:

The "Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation" project will train medical professionals across the country to identify patients with mild cognitive impairments who are most susceptible to financial scams. The goal is to have caregivers inform state regulators about patients who pose the greatest risk for abuse.

Plenty of evidence suggests that elderly people need more protection.

  • A new Investor Protection Trust survey shows that one in five people over 65 has been victimized by financial fraud. Also:
    • 37% of seniors in the survey said "people are calling me or mailing me asking for money, lotteries, and other schemes."
    • 31% said they feel vulnerable to financial manipulation.
    • The survey report also says: "A 2008 Duke University study found that about 35% of the 25 million people over age 71 in the U.S. either have mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease."
  • A MetLife Mature Market Institute study in 2009 found that 1 million elderly people are targeted by scammers each year. Among 55% of reported cases -- and most are never reported -- the evildoers were caregivers or family members.

The new program is modeled on one that began in Texas. Medical professionals trained in that program "who encountered problem patients would either contact the patient's family, refer them for additional testing or alert the securities commission about their condition," the McClatchy article said. The information was relayed in a confidential manner and patients' privacy was protected.

Physicians who undergo training under the new nationwide effort will ask these questions from a Clinician's Pocket Guide (.pdf file):

  • Who manages your money day to day? How is that going?
  • Do you run out of money at the end of the month?
  • Do you regret or worry about financial decisions you've recently made?
  • Have you given power of attorney to another person?
  • Do you have a will? Has anyone asked you to change it?

If the answers raise concerns, the doctor can refer the patient to programs or agencies that can help or recommend further testing. Robert Powell of MarketWatch says many states already require doctors to report suspected fraud or abuse.

This sounds like a good idea, but shouldn't we all be on guard to make sure our senior family members aren't being exploited? Powell thinks so. He says that "there's no reason to wait on medical professionals to spot cases of elders who are being swindled. For instance, the program gives doctors a list of red flags. There's no reason why you -- either as an older American, an adult child of one or a financial professional -- can't do the same."

 

These red flags are listed in the program's patient brochure (.pdf file). "Are you an older adult or do you know one who:    

  • Is socially isolated, depressed or lonely?
  • Has experienced a change in the ability for self-care?
  • Depends on someone to provide everyday care?
  • Is uncomfortable with the person providing care?
  • Has just lost a loved one, such as a spouse?
  • Is financially responsible for an adult child or spouse?
  • Has given power of attorney to someone else to manage his or her finances?"

Click here to read more about what you can do, and see the list of recommended reading below.

 

The new national project is a partnership of the Investor Protection Trust, the North American Securities Administrators Association, the National Adult Protective Services Association and several U.S. medical associations.

 

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