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(GFR Media)
(GFR Media)

Family members and caregivers should take precautions to prevent the elderly from being targeted by scammers who use Social Security numbers and other confidential information to access their bank accounts for fraudulent transactions.

In Puerto Rico, Social Security represents the only income for thousands of older adults. That money they earned through many years of hard work is essential to buy food and medicine. Losing it affects the stability of Social Security beneficiaries, who total 847,488 on the island.

For this reason, the government, banks, private companies, and third-sector organizations should work together to effectively combat Social Security fraud. One of the most common scams targeting the elderly is phone scamming.

The Social Security Administration recently warned that criminals often request personal information through recorded or text messages, among other tactics. People often share their numbers or other information, making it easier to steal identities to pay for purchases and other fraudulent transactions.

These types of scams represent millions in losses for Social Security and other federal and state agencies as well as for financial institutions and victims lose not only money but also their capacity to afford services that are essential for their well-being. 

The Puerto Rico Office of the Ombudsman for the Elderly informed the Legislature that in 2016 alone there were 1,714 suspected cases of financial exploitation that five commercial banks referred to state authorities. While, in the first four months of 2017, another 500 cases had been referred.

Educating seniors, as well as their families or caregivers, is key to preventing identity theft when a scammer obtains a Social Security number, credit card, or bank account code, among other personal information. It is urgent to inform and educate on the tactics and tricks scammers use. 

It is also advisable to promote a healthy skepticism in order to prevent the elderly from revealing personal information. And it is really important that they know where to report suspicious calls or seek authorities to prosecute criminals. The AARP´s website (American Association of Retired Persons) includes tips to protect personal information, property, and aimed at building relationships with the authorities investigating these cases. The organization has an Anti-Fraud Network that provides real-time surveillance alerts on fraud tactics.

A legislative bill seeks to strengthen education as a primary shield against this type of crime and proposes other measures against the financial exploitation of the elderly. Senate Bill 1409 includes initiatives to improve detection and intervention protocols for fraud associated with elderly identity theft, who lose their money through unauthorized purchases or withdrawals.

The bill stresses the importance of adopting a public policy that promotes education, training, and the collaboration of the Department of Justice and other state agencies that provide services to the elderly. They are even more vulnerable if they have a cognitive limitation or certain health conditions.

The goal is to improve staff training in agencies serving the elderly and to strengthen inter-agency collaboration to better respond to this serious problem. Effective education for the people at risk and their families would help to combat these scams. 

Identity theft and other financial exploitation practices hit our older adult´s pockets and affect them emotionally.  Puerto Rico must protect the elderly by improving prevention protocols and investigations that will limit impunity for those who commit these heartless criminal activities.