SENIOR POWER… The crime of the 21st century

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday January 12, 2012 - 07:32:00 PM

Many of the nation's fast-growing, elderly population are prime targets for abuse — physical, financial, sexual or emotional. Concern among the elderly and their advocates mounts as the number of seniors soars and more of them live longer. The Cedar Village Retirement Community in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason has opened a long-term care facility to victims of abuse. It is the first elder abuse shelter in Ohio and one of only a half-dozen in the country. All are funded by non-profit groups. 

Elder abuse crimes usually fall into 4 main categories: 

  • Physical abuse, including assaults, batteries, sexual assaults, false imprisonment and endangerment;
  • Physical neglect by a caregiver, including withholding medical services or hygiene that exposes the elderly person to the risk of serious harm;
  • Psychological (mental) abuse, including making threats or the infliction of emotional harm; and
  • Financial (fiduciary) abuse, which includes theft of such personal items as cash, investments, real property and jewelry.
In slanguage, a fraudulent business scheme or swindle is a scam, often an example of elder abuse. Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they are considered "the crime of the 21st century." Financial scams often go unreported; they can be difficult to prosecute and are considered “low-risk” crime. 

Wealthy seniors and low-income older adults are at risk of financial abuse, not always by strangers. Seniors are assumed by many to have significant amounts of money sitting in their accounts. Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by a person’s own family members, most often adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others. The National Council on Aging and the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement have identified the top scams targeting seniors and ways to protect yourself from them. 


Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud 

Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident age 65+ qualifies for Medicare. A scammer does not need to research what private health insurance (“HMO”) company an old person has in order to scam her/him out of money. Perpetrators may pose as a Medicare or other government representative to get older people’s personal information or signature. Or they may provide bogus services for elderly people. 

Use direct deposit for benefit checks. 

Funeral & Cemetery Scams 

The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors. 

(1) Scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widowed person. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers try to extort money from relatives to settle fake debts. 

(2) Disreputable funeral homes capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors insist that a casket (typically, one of the most expensive parts of funeral services) is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket. 

Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products 

“60 is the new 40.” In an ageist society, some older people feel the need to conceal their age in order to participate in social circles and the workplace. Many older Americans seek new treatments, products and medications to maintain a youthful appearance, putting them at risk of scammers. Bogus homeopathic remedies do nothing. Botox -- botulism neurotoxin -- is one of the most toxic substances known to science. 


Scammers use of fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who, as a group, make twice as many purchases over the phone as the national average. With no face-to-face interaction and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly difficult to trace. Moreover, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with other schemers. 

Examples of telemarketing fraud include “The Pigeon Drop.” The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other supposedly trustworthy stranger. 

“The Fake Accident Ploy” con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs money. “Charity Scams” money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters. 

Sign up with the National Do Not Call Registry. 1 888 382 1222 

Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information over the phone. 

Take yourself off multiple mailing lists. 

Internet Fraud 

Using the Internet is a great skill to acquire at any age, but the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ubiquitous on the web and email programs. 

Examples: a senior receives an email that appears to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking to “update” or “verify” their personal information; a senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund. 

Counterfeit drug scams often operate on the Internet, where seniors go to find better prices on their meds. The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a medical condition, the victim may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict harm. 

Do not open emails that have attachments unless you know the sender. 

Do not include any aspect of your name in your constructed email address. 

Investment Schemes 

Because many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they finish working, a number of investment schemes have been targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years. From pyramid schemes to fables of African royalty looking for a partner to claim inheritance, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people. 

Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers. 

Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams 

Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many people above a certain age own their homes, a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value. The reverse mortgage scam has mushroomed in recent years. With legitimate reverse mortgages increasing in frequency, scammers are taking advantage of this new popularity. As opposed to official refinancing schemes, however, unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when the perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property. 

Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams 

Scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take several days before the (fake) check is rejected. During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces. 

The Grandparent Scam 

Grandparent Scammers will call an older person, and when the mark picks up, say something like “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without even making a background research. Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which do not always require identification to collect. Alas, many older ladies are still reluctant to “hang up” on callers who are unknown to them personally and to demand in person “ID” 

Be aware that you are at risk from strangers—and from those closest to you. 



This week I learned that California Governor Jerry Brown has released his 2012/2013 budget proposal. It eliminates the California Commission on the Status of Women. The budget also proposes steep cuts to health and human services, including Medi-Cal. If you don’t see the “senior” connection, review these facts: 

Most aged persons are women. 

Most low-income aged persons are women. California has twice as many women as men over the age of 85. 

Nationwide, as many as 75% of long-term caregivers are women. California leads the way with an estimated 4 million caregivers – a value to the state of more than $48 billion annually. 

Email. Call Governor Brown: 916-445-2841. Fax (916) 558-3160. Urge him to fund the Commission on the Status of Women. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred.  

Fridays, Jan. 13 and Feb. 17. 9:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Creating Your Personal Learning Network 

Join Mike McMahon, Volunteer, to learn to use the Internet and tools like Twitter and YouTube. 510-747-7510. 

Tuesday, Jan. 17. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson and/or Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich by Eric Metaxas. 510-747-7510. See also Feb. 21. 

Wednesday, Jan. 18. 1 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. 510-981-5170. 

Wednesday, Jan. 18. 7 P.M. Adult Evening Book Group. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 

Thursday, Jan. 19. 12 Noon. Learn what identity theft is, how to prevent it, and what you can do if you become a victim. This is one in a series of free financial education seminars taught by USE Credit Union. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Thursday, Jan. 19. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. Berkeley Public Library west branch. 1125 University 510-981-6270. See also Jan. 26. 

Fridays, Jan. 20, 27, Feb. 3 and 10. 10 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Folk Dancing with Maureen Atkins, Instructor. No experience or partner necessary. $16 per person for four sessions. 510-747-7510. 

Saturday, Jan. 21. 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Monoprint Processes. Join Heidi Guibord, volunteer instructor. A beginner’s look at Monoprint with the opportunity to make cards and decorations. Bring items with interesting textures (e.g., leaves, ribbons) to class. $10 supplies fee. 510-747-7510. 

Sunday, Jan. 22. 1:30 P.M. Book Into Film: Romeo and Juliet. Discussion group participants read the play at home and then gather at Berkeley’s Central Library, 2090 Kittredge Street to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants discuss the play, the film and the adaptation process. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library. Free. Participation is limited and registration is required. 510-981-6236. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 10:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Learn to Create a YouTube Video Jeff Cambra, Alameda Currents producer, will share the basics of shooting a good video and how to get it uploaded to YouTube. No equipment or experience is needed. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 12:30 P.M. YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch. Speaker’s Forum: Fariba Nawa’s Opium Nation. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720 

Monday, Jan. 23. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club. The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. 61 Arlington Av. Free. Book group meetings are usually held on the fourth Monday of every month in the library at 7:00 p.m. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. 510-524-3043. 

Tuesday, Jan. 24. 1 P.M. Doggie Communication 101. Does your dog pull you down the street? Growl or snap? Bark too much? Other annoying or worrisome behaviors? Bring your questions and join dog trainer Ruth Smiler. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesdays, beginning January 25. 9:30 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. San Francisco History and Highlights. Join Eric Hill, Volunteer Instructor for San Francisco History and Highlights. Free. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Jan. 25. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Goldberg, guitar: Noon Concert Series. 

UCB Hertz Concert Hall. Sponsor: Department of Music Faculty recital.
Luis de Narvaez: Three Fantasias. Turina: Sevillana Bach: Suite in E Major (BWV 1006a). Ponce: Sonatina Meridional. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864 


Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1-2 P.M. Israeli Chamber Project Concert. Jewish Community Center. Berkeley Branch, 1414 Walnut St. Free. RSVP online. 510-848-0237 


Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group. Gogol's The Overcoat. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 



Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. 


Thursday, Jan. 26. 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 


Monday, Jan. 30. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class at Central Berkeley Public Library. . Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 



Monday, Jan. 30. 7 P.M. Ellis Island Old World Folk Band Performance. 

Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. Old World and New World repertoire emphasizing the transition that took place when Jews came to America at the beginning of the last century. Tunes from the Yiddish theater and radio featuring vocals made popular by the Barry Sisters, queens of 1940s Yiddish Swing. This award-winning band has pioneered the revival of klezmer, lively and soulful Eastern European Jewish music. Free. 510-524-3043 


Tuesday, Jan. 31. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

John Jacobs, Vice President of Bank of Alameda, will provide an Insurance Primer. Learn what the current FDIC Insurance limits are and whether you are investing your money properly. Free. 510-747-7510. 





Wednesday, Feb. 1. 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. The AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course is specifically designed for motorists age 50+. Taught in one-day. To qualify, you must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration essential. $12 per person fee for AARP members (AARP membership number required); $14 per person fee for non-AARP members. Registration fee payable by check only, to AARP. 510-747-7510 


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12 Noon. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 8, 15 , 22 and 29. 


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Nathan Noh, solo piano: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. Beethoven: Sonata in A-flat major, op. 110
Ravel: two movements from Miroirs Balakirev: Islamey. 510-642-4864 


Thursday, Feb. 2. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 9, 16 and 23, and March 1. 


Thursday, Feb. 2. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Fred Setterberg will discuss his book, Lunch Bucket Paradise, a true-life novel about growing up in blue-collar suburbia in 1950s and 60s East Bay. Albany Library, 1247 Martin Avenue. Free. 510-526-3720. This is a program in the Alameda County Library’s Older Adults Services series; for dates and branches throughout the county, call 510-745-1491. 


Monday, Feb. 6. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 13 and 27. 


Wednesday, Feb. 8. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Tan, cello; Miles Graber, piano. Andrea Wu, solo piano. Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. 

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise Faure: Après un rêve Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, mvts. 2 and 4 Schumann: Sonata, op. 22 Prokofiev: Toccata, op. 11. 510-642-4864 


Thursday, Feb. 9. 6 PM. Lawyers in the Library. South branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1901 Russell. 981-6100. 


Monday, Feb. 13. 7 P.M. Author talk. Songwriter poet Marisa Handler will speak about her writing, songs and poetry. Her memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. Born in apartheid South Africa, Handler emigrated to Southern California when she was twelve. Her gradual realization that injustice existed even in this more open, democratic society spurred a commitment to activism that would take her to Israel, India, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, and throughout the United States. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043. 


Wednesday, Feb. 15. 12:15-1 P.M. Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. Recital: Jeffrey Syles, piano, with Axel Strauss, violin, and Jean-Michel Fontenau, cello. Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in C Minor Piazzola: two movements from Grand Tango. 510-642-4864 


Wednesday, Feb. 15. 7-8 P.M. Adult evening book group: E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 


Thursday, Feb. 16. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. West branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University. 510-981-6270. 


Tuesday, February 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. members will review Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin and/or Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn 

Levy. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Jazz x 2: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Jazz Allstars, Ted Moore, Director. Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, Myra Melford, Director. 510-642-4864 



Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 x 16. 


Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. 


Wednesday, Feb. 29. 12:15-1 P.M. Gospel Chorus, Old Made New: Free Noon Concert Series. UC, B Music Dept. Highlights - University Gospel Chorus, D. Mark Wilson, director. Old Songs in New Clothes: Old hymns given new life and meaning in contemporary compositions by African American composers. 510-642-4864 


Wednesday, Feb. 29. 7:00 PM. Kensington Library Book Club. 61 Arlington Av. 

February's book is The Trial by Franz Kafka. The book group alternates classic and contemporary literature on a monthly basis. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member. 510-524-3043. 



Thursday, March 1. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100.