It should surprise no one that advancing technology and advancing age don’t exactly go hand in glove. People of my generation tend to struggle with it or work around the wired world where we can. But this situation is changing. According to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center, “On several fronts, adoption of key technologies by those in the oldest age group has grown markedly since about a decade ago.”
The finding of a survey conducted in 2021 shows that 61% of respondents 65 and older reported owning a smartphone. While those 65 and older remain the least likely age group to say they use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, in the survey, some 45% reported using social media. In fact, the presence on social media among Americans 65 and older has grown roughly fourfold since 2010. When it comes to internet use, 75% of those 65 and older report being internet users. While YouTube tops the list in the number of adults using it, it is a platform that has gained traction among older adults. For adults 65 and older, YouTube use increased from 38% to 49% from 2019 to 2021.
This increased representation on technology platforms is not entirely good news. It also makes older Americans much more vulnerable to criminal exploitation. According to a Consumer Affairs report, financial crimes against the elderly are on the rise. They report that older people are swindled out of more than $3 billion each year. “Those over the age of 60 are often more vulnerable, and victims over 80 report even higher financial losses,” reports Consumer Affairs’ Emma Rubin.
Before we go any further, let me just say that there should be a special place in hell for people who stalk and exploit older people, robbing many of them of their life savings, destroying their sense of trust or the ability to pay for needed medical care.
The scams are not especially new but may be new to these intended victims. Says Consumer Affairs, online shopping is the most widely reported type of fraud committed against older Americans, with scammers posing as online retail stores. Also high on the list are tech support scammers using the scare tactic of telling their victims their computers have problems or viruses that they can help resolve. In 2019, considering the tech support scheme alone, scammers stole an estimated $24 million from victims over 60, says the report.
Hiding behind the veil that many technology platforms provide, the scams can take many forms, from posing as various government agencies, banks or even family members. They are after bank account numbers, your passwords and any other personal data they can collect. “Social Security imposters may tell victims that their SSN has been linked to criminal activity and/or suspended,” the report warns.
Another of the most prominent frauds perpetrated, especially this time of year, is IRS impersonation. “If there’s an issue with your taxes, the IRS will typically send a notice in the mail first,” the report reminds us. “The IRS also will never ask for personal financial information like PINs, passwords or credit card numbers.”
Some of the groups that can help as a checkpoint regarding these crimes include the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
As shocking as the statistics associated with these crimes are, the true number of those older Americans exploited remains greatly underestimated.
“It’s hard to understand how widespread fraud is because the data is often underreported, especially among the senior population,” says Consumer Affairs. “One study in New York State suggested that for every 44 fraud cases, only one is reported, and data from the Federal Trade Commission suggests seniors are 94% more likely to report fraud attempts if they haven’t lost any money. This hesitancy to report can be due to shame and older people not wanting to alert family members about an inability to manage their finances.”
“Indirectly, forms of elder abuse — such as financial exploitation — may inhibit health care visits and result in an inability to purchase prescriptions, and the financial strain associated with economic loss takes a toll on health,” says Andy Mao, National Elder Justice Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Justice.
He believes that financial exploitation is just one facet of the larger health problem of elder abuse. “By 2040, between 15 million and 20 million older Americans will likely experience elder abuse each year. And that number is only expected to grow,” he writes. “One of the impediments to intervening is simply identifying elder abuse in the first place. There are multiple reasons why, but older adults are often reluctant to self-report.”
In many ways, older Americans are the tip of the spear in a spiraling care crisis in this country. Health care costs now far exceed what many people can pay; the shortfalls of recruiting and training caregivers seems to be the norm; ever-soaring costs for medication seem to have no end in sight; burnout by doctors and nurses continues; fewer medical school graduates are said to be entering primary care, while growing cases of elder abuse are expected. These are just some of the symptoms of why fixing the health care system must be a much more urgent priority in this country.
“Within 10 years, all of the nation’s 74 million baby boomers will be 65 or older. The most senior among them will be on the cusp of 85,” reports Kaiser Health News. If you are not there already, it will be you some day. For all of our sakes, we need to right the course of health care in this country starting now, not later.