The Aging Population: Isolation and the Risks of Fraud and Abuse
By the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) National Resource Center
July 13, 2022
The pandemic escalated fraud concerns, abuse challenges, and social isolation for everyone., However, it especially brought to light the isolation concerns that many older adults have always faced. A person who is isolated may be home, by the phone, waiting for someone to call, or may be online, trying to connect with anyone willing to talk. Scammers can use an individual’s social isolation as an opportunity to steal financial, medical, and personal information. Numerous recent reports include details of fraudsters calling others using spoofed phone numbers, knocking on doors unsolicited, and even prowling on social media in an attempt to con those with whom they interact.
Risk Factors of Isolation
Unfortunately, isolation is not a new concern for the aging population and continues to be a serious issue. A National Health and Aging Trends Study
revealed that approximately 7.7 million older adults over the age of 65 in the United States were socially isolated prior to the pandemic. Overall, older adults are at an increased risk of social isolation and loneliness due, in part, to having fewer services or resources nearby than their younger counterparts, loss of immediate family or friends, or a chronic illness. Other risk factors include:
Prevention Efforts and Minimizing Risk
- Need for Connection. As naturally social beings, humans need to feel connected to one another. The pandemic halted in-person social connections, causing social isolation and loneliness to increase overall. Feeling alone or isolated can lead people to try to connect with anyone, including developing personal relationships with those who may exhibit exploitative or abusive behaviors.
- Loss of Caregiver Support. Many older adults rely on caregivers to help them in within the home. If that support, whether paid or through family caregiving, becomes unavailable, increased isolation concerns, abuse, or neglect could occur. The American Bar Association reported that there was an increased risk of caregiver neglect due to concerns related to risk of spreading coronavirus infection or other COVID-19 related inability to provide care.
- Technology Access. Cyber connections continue to become a new norm for accessing services and resources. The lack of and/or barriers to technology intensify social rifts and inequities overall, with correlations between digital disengagement and race, disability, health, education, rural residencies, and economic status. According to the Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) Aging Connected report, 21.8 million older adults do not have broadband access to the internet. In an effort to combat this, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a broadband initiative to assist with access.
- Health Factors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that recent social isolation studies show that people ages 50 and older have a significantly increased risk of premature death, with rates comparable to those of people who smoke, are obese, or lack the ability to get adequate physical activity. The rates of anxiety and depression reported by Medicare recipients are around 24%, which is much higher than pre-pandemic statistics, according to an August 2020 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
- Population Vulnerability. Populations such as older adults, immigrants, LGBTQ, African Americans, individuals who live in rural communities, and victims of maltreatment need extra care, support, and protection because of increased risks overall of abuse, neglect, and fraud. Social isolation is no exception from those risks.
Preventing and minimizing risk starts with education and support. Family, friends, and neighbors can be the support system for the socially isolated or can find others who can help.
Many national organizations have created resources to help combat social isolation and support older adults and caregivers. The Senior Medicare Patrols (SMPs) empower and assist Medicare beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers to prevent and detect health care fraud, errors, and abuse. Here are some helpful pages from the SMP National Resource Center’s website
Those who think they may have been a victim of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation can contact their state’s protective services agency
, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116, or, if in immediate danger, call 911. Those who think they may have been a victim of a consumer scam (such as Social Security, credit card, dating, identity theft, or lottery) can contact the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov
To report potential Medicare/Medicaid fraud, errors, or abuse, contact the local SMP by clicking “Find Help in Your State
” on the SMP Resource Center website or by calling 1-877-808-2468.