By Greg Price
Seniors’ Week was celebrated this past week in Taber.
But with how seniors have built southern Alberta into what it is today, seniors should be able to enjoy and celebrate their Golden Years without fear of being taken advantage of.
“We respect the fact that with wisdom and age comes a lot of trust with individuals. Seniors always want to lend a helping hand. I don’t think I’ve ever met one that has said no,” said Graham Abela, police chief for the Taber Police Service. “And that makes them vulnerable sometimes to individuals with certain scams which are very complicated and rehearsed and can prey on that trust in our senior population. Seniors with the Taber police Service are considered priority clients.”
While much research remains to be done in Canada on the issue of the prevalence of crime and abuse against the elderly, the most authoritative (due to its rigour and size) national study, the General Social Survey on Victimization (2004), indicates that approximately 10 per cent of seniors in Canada are victims of crime each year.
As with other age groups, the majority of these crimes are property rather than violent crimes.
Findings drawn from the Canadian research literature include:
* Financial abuse/exploitation and emotional abuse appear to be the most prevalent forms of abuse.
* The overall prevalence of elder abuse in Canada is similar to the levels found in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
* Seniors are less likely to report being victims of crime or spousal abuse than are non-seniors.
* Many crimes against seniors are not reported to police but are reported to health professionals, community groups, and financial institutions agencies.
Financial Crimes by Strangers
According to the United States Department of Justice, 20-40 per cent of elder abuse cases involve financial exploitation. Factors increasing a senior’s vulnerability to fraud committed by strangers include:
1. Home ownership;
2. A tendency to not solicit advice before making a purchase;
3. Financial risk-taking behaviour;
4. Lack of knowledge of consumer rights;
5. Lack of awareness of fraudulent schemes;
6. Openness to marketing appeals;
7. A reluctance to hang up the phone on telemarketers.
Perpetrators may use a variety of tactics to gain the compliance of the victim. They may try to isolate the victim, exert pressure to induce the victim to act quickly, use fear, and discourage them from seeking the counsel of others.
Perpetrators of fraud against the elderly tend to be male, although they vary in age, race, social status and education.
They are motivated both by profit and the sense of power achieved from defrauding a victim of means or one who is well-educated. They are not bound by conventional norms, often have some form of psychological dysfunction, and are able to rationalize their behaviour.
Warning signs of possible consumer fraud include: Large volumes of unsolicited mail congratulating the recipient on winning a prize; numerous unsolicited phone calls offering prizes and investment opportunities; financial difficulties in covering basic expenses when the senior’s income should be sufficient; and a stranger accompanying an elderly person to the bank and encouraging him or her to make a major withdrawal.
“If I were to say to you what’s the largest change in my tenure in policing in regard to fraud with seniors, and I’ve seen it throughout my career,” said Abela. “It is the Internet scams. Many seniors fall prey to individuals on the Internet who request things of seniors like bank accounts or sending them money, or pretending to be someone they are not, like impersonating a family member. Because what senior wouldn’t want to help a family member? Maybe they are saying they are in jail or they’re having car trouble. A little bit of panic sets in and they act quickly and want to help.”
Abela is seeing a generational change right now where there are many seniors who are familiar with the Internet, but a good portion are still lagging behind in integrating the technology into their lives.
“Those that are less knowledgeable about the Internet and the things that can hurt you there, they are more susceptible. As people become more savvy to the Internet crime, I think you will find that decreasing until the new fraud scam comes into play.”
There is a program in place that southern Alberta policing agencies use in conjunction with seniors crime prevention awareness in the Wise Owl Program.
“It has ebbed and flowed in relation to participation over the years, and we are probably at a lower level of participation than we have in the past,” said Abela. “We have a senior officer who is assigned to invigorate that and assist with that program. It’s a partnership we have with local seniors who actually go out talk amongst themselves. It’s seniors helping seniors with prevention initiatives such as Internet scams. That Revenue Canada tax scam that can happen over the phone or the Internet. It works fairly well.”
Early in Abela’s career, he had seen the fraudster be very direct, going door to door pitching various scams be it for home improvement etc. But now there is more anonymity in the scams for seniors.
“They are doing the scams with a technological base. Policing agencies have put practices and policies in place to prevent people from going door-to-door unless they are legitimate. We sometimes have people stray from that, but not very often,” said Abela.
Abela was appalled when he heard of people taking advantage of the giving spirit of Albertans, claiming to be victims of the Fort McMurray wild fire when they were not, gaining free goods and services in the process.
“Theft requires opportunity and greed. When you have those two things, it emerges,” said Abela. “For us, it’s all about communication and effective strategies we can put in place to reduce crime. We don’t want seniors to become victims. We want seniors to feel safe in our communities.”
With the Baby Boomer ‘grey wave’ making its way through Alberta with people born post WWII, Abela is happy to report from the recent survey the Taber Police Service have conducted, that the senior demographic feels very safe in the Town of Taber according to responses.
“We need to keep that up and maintain that. From the perspective of our seniors feeling vulnerable or they feel like they have been victimized, we have a no call is too small attitude,” said Abela. “Seniors in our community, maybe they don’t have a lot of family here. We can be their family. We can assist them in numerous ways. This is all about community policing and working in partnerships with our most vulnerable to promote community safety.”