The uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus and the need for social distancing provide a playground for fraudulent telemarketers and internet scammers.

Older individuals are especially vulnerable to financial exploitation at the hands of others, says Karen Roberto, a Virginia Tech expert in gerontology (the study of old age and the process of aging).

“Elder financial abuse costs older Americans more than $3 billion annually, but we know the losses to elderly victims extend far beyond dollars and cents,” Roberto says. “Elder financial abuse and exploitation endangers the health and well-being of older adults and invariably, their quality of life.”

[Related: Expert in aging offers tips for interacting with older family and friends during COVID-19 spread]

Roberto offers  these tips for older adults to protect themselves from becoming a victim, particularly during this global pandemic:

  • Stay engaged with others: “Socialize — remotely — with family members and friends. Isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, and make you more vulnerable to financial abuse or exploitation.”

  • Beware of telephone solicitations: “Billions of dollars are lost each year because of fraudulent telemarketers. You are not being rude by hanging up when a solicitor calls.” Use caller ID to screen your calls, and if you are not familiar with a number or name, don’t answer and don’t return messages from persons unfamiliar to you. Remember, programs and services like Social Security, Medicare, and local police will not call you asking for personal information.

  • Just hang up: “If you find yourself on a call with someone you don’t know or who is trying to sell food or paper products to help meet your needs during this pandemic, don’t engage in the conversation. Just hang up.”

  • Protect your passwords: This includes ATMs and online or telephone transactions with a bank, credit card carrier, or any company with whom you do business. Do not give your passwords to anyone.

  • Do not share personal information: Whether on the internet, a phone call, or in person, never give out personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, your date of birth, or Social Security and Medicare numbers, to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.

  • Tell someone: If you believe you are a victim or near-victim of financial abuse and exploitation, do not be afraid or embarrassed to discuss your concerns with someone you trust, such as another family member, clergyman, or bank manager. “You are not alone. The situation could become worse if you do nothing.”

[More: Find additional Virginia Tech expertise related to COVID-19 here.]

About Roberto

Karen Roberto is a Virginia Tech University Distinguished Professor, senior fellow at the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology, and founding director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Society, Culture and Environment. Among other research areas, she focuses specifically on the psychosocial aspects of aging, health and relationships in later life, family caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, rural aging, and elder abuse and neglect. See her bio

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