Seniors’ Desperation: A Perfect Tool For Elder Abuse

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Can you think of anything that makes a person more desperate than being in pain?  You can’t stand it. Maybe you’ll fall for anything that promises to end your pain.

My mother in law, Alice, now in her 90’s, was feeling like that. She had chronic knee pain that was getting worse.  She went with some friends to a “free lunch seminars”, always a vehicle for selling something.

This one was put on near a large retirement community. The place is full of fairly well to do elders, some quite wealthy. Nice target, right? The perpetrator in this situation was a chiropractor. He knew exactly what he was doing, promising to end everyone’s chronic pain. All they had to do was sign up for his “guaranteed” to work pain relief program for a mere $3000 payable in advance and of course, nonrefundable.  He carefully never put the guarantee in writing, but he used verbally it to seduce anyone there into believing his promise of pain relief.

Alice signed up. I advised her not to go through with his program and politely told her there were suspicious things I found in checking him out. She said she was ready to try anything and he assured her that everyone got good results. She went anyway.

The chiropractor in question didn’t even see her. His assistant did the work, which involved very brief “treatment” and a very long pressured talk to try to get her to buy his expensive supplements which they now said would enable the treatment to work. As the scam became more obvious, Alice got disgusted. The “treatment” did nothing at all for her pain.  She quit and asked for her money back. No dice.

With her permission we filed a complaint with the State Chiropractic Board, which prosecutes fraud and license violations through the state Attorney General. They pursued the chiropractor, eventually settling with him.  He paid a fine and was probably placed on probation. Of course none of this gets Alice her money back. At last check he’s still in business.

Pain relief is a big opportunity for scammers. They may be chiropractors or others who have some kind of license. They may be selling magic potions on the internet.  It could start with one amount and escalate as it did with the chiropractor to expensive add ons, his “supplements”. Recent research shows that many seniors who get taken for relatively small amounts of money often become victims in escalating amounts over time. They want to trust when they feel desperate and that makes them vulnerable to manipulation. What can you do as a professional if your aging parent is victimized by a scam?  Here are three things:

  1. If you learn about this sort of shady character, encourage your parent to fight back.File a complaint. Write a letter to the entity in power. You can offer your help with paperwork or filling out a complaint form. Not every predator can be stopped but some can if you help your aging loved one take action.
  2. Warn other older parents. If you have aging parents, warn them by letter or email about any shady operators in your area.  You never know who you might be saving by doing that.
  3. Make it public. If your aging parents’s story is useful and you get permission to share it, local newspapers, TV or radio stations may be interested in it.  That’s one way to educate and thwart these predators.

Do you have an experience of seeing an aging parent get taken advantage of by a shady character like the chiropractor here? We’d like to hear from you. Your other family members and friends can also learn from you. We invite you to send us your stories. Please email me: carolyn@agingparents.com.

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