Consumer advocates are encouraging families across Wisconsin to talk about financial exploitation with their older members. One insurance company study put the economic loss to senior citizens nationwide at $2.9 billion in 2011.
"We tend to be nicer," said Paul Rusk, executive director of the Alzheimer's and Dementia Association of Wisconsin. "We want to help everybody and we always answer the phone."
Rusk said simple suggestions like getting caller ID for a phone and reminding a loved one not to answer the phone unless it's from a person they know can dramatically cut down on scammers. Further, signing up for the state and federal No Call Lists can also help. Preventing the fraud from occurring is critical, as statistics show victims are likely to be re-victimized.
"Unfortunately, once you are a victim of a scam, bad people actually sell that information, those names, so you're likely be scammed a second time."
Relatives, neighbors, or clergy can all be the ones speaking to an older adult about these security issues. Among the most difficult conversations can surround asking someone to give up a phone number they've had for decades. However, if scammers have it, there may be no other alternative.
"I think about my mom's number in Waukesha, it's a number she's had for the last 60 years," said Bill Brauch, who runs the Consumer Protection Division inside the Iowa Attorney General's office. "To give that up is almost like asking someone to give up a part of their identity."
Brauch suggested family members hand deliver the new number to friends, clergy, or doctors and to stress the impact that getting the new number can have.
"(They) will be able to maintain their independence more likely because they're not going to fall victim in the future."
Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has a "Senior Guide" posted online [PDF] to help educate families and seniors.