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Helping seniors avoid becoming fraud victims

The Department for the Aging (DFTA) and the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) have joined forces with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to launch a citywide outreach campaign designed to help seniors avoid becoming the victims of financial swindles.
“Senior Savvy,” which will kick-off soon, will feature training held at senior centers throughout the five boroughs and will examine consumer-related scams that are often directed at seniors - including internet and telemarketing fraud, identity theft, lottery sweepstakes and reverse mortgage loans - and educate seniors on how to avoid becoming a victim of exploitation.
“Sadly Older New Yorkers are all too often targets of consumer scams and exploitation,” said Commissioner M/ndez-Santiago. “The Senior Savvy program is rooted in education and prevention, the two best defenses against this deplorable form of elder abuse.
“Over the next year, Senior Savvy will be part of the Commission’s efforts to give seniors the necessary tools to protect their privacy and watch their wallets,” said FTC Northeast Regional Director Thomas A. Cohn.
“Seniors can empower themselves to protect their finances and their personal information,” said DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. “Be savvy consumers: never give out your bank account or social security number, check out a business before hiring contractors for home repairs, and avoid any aggressive sales pitches that make you uncomfortable.”
The DFTA, with the support of the DCA, will make available to all its senior centers a helpful guide on “How to be a Savvy Senior!” This guide for seniors includes tips on Reverse Mortgages: Know if it’s the Right Loan Option for You; Home Improvement: Protect your Home and Wallet; Shopping on the Internet; Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams; Door-to-Door Sales, Telemarketers, and Offers by Mail; Charity Solicitations; Protecting Your Identity; Getting Benefits? Go Direct! and Statistics on Financial Abuse:
In New York City, the DFTA estimates that there are 50,000 cases of elder abuse - including physical, psychological, neglect and financial abuse - each year, with only a fraction of these cases reported. Almost 50 percent of the clients referred to DFTA’s Resource Center are victims of financial abuse.
In the past year, the DCA has returned more than $1 million back to homeowners with complaints against home improvement contractors; secured nearly $800,000 in invalidated or cancelled debts for consumers with complaints against debt collectors; secured more than $3.6 million in total restitution for New Yorkers filing consumer complaints.
The DFTA’s Elderly Crime Victims Resource Center (ECVRC) offers elder abuse supportive services and counseling - including physical, psychological, and financial abuse and neglect - throughout the five boroughs and with the support of a network of community-based agencies, and sponsors elder abuse prevention activities for older New Yorkers.
In addition to the ECVRC, the DFTA is currently developing a training program for bank tellers, brokers, and New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) members on the signs and symptoms of elder financial abuse.
It is also collaborating with the U.S. Department of the Treasury in its Go Direct campaign, which encourages seniors to use direct deposit for all their entitlement checks, in order to reduce financial exploitation and abuse.
The DFTA will debut “It’s My Money!,” this year. It is an interactive, game-like financial literacy program for older adults in both English and Spanish. The program covers basic banking, credit card management, identity theft, and senior scams. Russian and Chinese versions of the program will be developed and tested later in the year.
The DFTA has also established an Elder Abuse Prevention Network for New York City (NYCEAPN). The Network was formed out of a nucleus of agencies that indicated a strong desire to expand and strengthen their activities in the area of elder abuse.
The network includes financial service providers, law enforcement personnel, district attorneys, city agencies, academic institutions, not-for-profit providers of victim services as well as support services to the elderly, ethnic and cultural associations serving minority and immigrant populations, and other interested community professionals.
The Elder Abuse Prevention Network serves as the focal point in New York City for team consultation on difficult and multi-problem cases, advocacy and legislative initiatives, training, public awareness and prevention campaigns, as well as systems coordination and services integration.

Edwin Méndez-Santiago is the Commissioner of the Department for the Aging.

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