Groton Senior Center pilots program to prevent financial exploitation of seniors
Groton — At least once a day, a resident contacts the Groton Town Police Department to report that someone claiming to be an IRS agent just called, or some another scam, said Officer Sean O’Brien.
As a patrol officer, O’Brien said, he alone has handled about a half dozen incidents in the past year in which community members were scammed. In one incident, a person granted remote access to his computer, and his bank accounts were wiped out.
In another case, a person received a call that his grandson apparently was in distress, had been in an accident and needed money, O’Brien said. Concerned, he wired the money. He only found out the next week when he saw his grandson — who had no idea what his grandfather was talking about — that it was all a scam.
To help combat the widespread problem, the Groton Senior Center is among four senior centers nationwide — and the only one in the Northeast — that is developing a pilot program to prevent financial exploitation of older adults, said Kathy Williams, program supervisor at the senior center.
“Knowledge is power when it comes to this,” said O’Brien, adding that making people aware of the problem can help prevent it from happening in the future.
The program, funded by a $10,000 grant as part of a partnership between the National Council on Aging and Walmart, will not only serve the local community, but will be distributed to members of the National Council on Aging as it develops a program for preventing financial exploitation of older adults, Williams said.
People can attend a session from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 10, 17, or 24 at the senior center, 102 Newtown Road, to learn how to recognize scams and safeguard themselves against them, O’Brien said. The event is open to seniors, as well as adult children of elderly parents, from throughout the area, not just Groton.
The workshop, intended to prevent financial exploitation of older adults, will discuss types of financial scams, why people are at risk, how they can protect themselves and steps to take if financial fraud has occurred, according to an event description.
Scams are becoming increasingly prevalent as social media grows, more information is available online, and people migrate to online banking, O'Brien said.
Overall, scams cost seniors $2.9 billion annually, according to the AARP, which cited a January report from the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Citing a report from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the AARP said 63,500 reports “of suspicious financial activity” involving seniors were made in 2017, which is quadruple what was reported four years earlier.
The international crime also is straining the resources of local police, as the police have to respond to accidents and investigate other crimes, in addition to the scams, O'Brien explained.
The goals of the workshop are to make people aware of the different types of scams and how scammers are using techniques such as spoofing people’s voices and phone numbers, O'Brien and Williams explained. People will be educated on how to prevent being scammed, such as reaching out to the proper authorities to verify facts, O’Brien and Williams said.
The workshop, led by representatives of the senior center and police department, also includes hands-on learning and role playing in which police officers pretending to be scammers will call volunteers from the audience. O’Brien said older generations may typically feel it’s not polite to hang up the phone on someone, but a goal of the workshop is to teach them how to protect themselves against scammers and hang up the phone.
To break the stigma and put a human face on the issue, seniors in the community will share during the workshop their stories of being scammed, said O’Brien. Williams said people often feel embarrassed so they don’t tell anyone, but talking is critical to informing those around them that these scams do happen.
“You need to be the voice to be heard so that this doesn’t keep happening,” she said.
The senior center recently convened a panel of representatives from the State’s Attorney's office, Social Security, a bank, Medicare, the senior center itself, and Groton Town Police Department, as well as tax and investment consultants, to gather information on the scams targeting the older community and to assist in developing and fine-tuning the pilot program, said Williams and O’Brien.
After the workshops in September, the senior center will confer with the National Council on Aging and then hold another round of workshops later in the fall, likely in November, Williams said.
“Older adults are being targeted by scammers in many ways, from online rip-offs to fraud and outright theft from people close to them,” Senior Center Supervisor Mary Jo Riley said in a statement. “Providing educational programs at the Groton Senior Center is an important safeguard for older adults in Groton and New London County to protect their retirement savings. We are honored to implement the pilot program and hope that senior centers in our region will be able to learn from it to expand their financial education. Older adults are in no position to lose even a penny of their hard-earned savings to fraud, and we are confident this evidence-based program will protect them.”
More information and registration is available at www.grotonrec.com or by calling (860) 441-6785.