“Hi, grandma! Guess who this is!”

Betty held the phone, hesitated a moment, and then said, “Bobby? Is that you?”

In that split second, the scam began. “Bobby” took a chance that Betty had a grandson, and Betty played right into his guess-who game. “Bobby” was short on cash and needed money for repairs. Could Grandma help by sending funds via Western Union? “And please don’t tell my parents!” he pleads. “They would be so mad at me!”

Last year, $37 billion was taken from seniors through scams executed not only by con artists and unscrupulous advisors, but friends and family members as well, according to the North American Securities Administrators Association. Eighty percent of telemarketing scams are aimed at people over 60, with the average victim losing $34,000. These senior scams are so prevalent that they are called the “crimes of the 21st Century.”

Residents at Siena Village and Summer Hill – Christian Health Care Center’s affordable and fair-market senior-housing complexes in Wayne – are a step ahead of the curve in avoiding scams, thanks, in part, to the Service Coordination Program. This extensive, complimentary, and voluntary benefit for residents provides educational programs, such as how to recognize and avoid scams, as well as access to information, services, resources, and referrals in relation to health, nutrition, financial and legal assistance, transportation, mental-health and emotional guidance, and senior services provided by Passaic County. Each complex has a designated Service and Activity Coordinator.

“Our residents have an additional advantage to potentially avoiding scams,” says Laura Koblitz, Siena Village and Summer Hill Resident Director. “According to the journal Gerontologist, seniors without strong social networks are more at risk from fraud. Loneliness, depression, and other psychological factors can play a role in making older adults more vulnerable to scams. Our residential communities provide abundant opportunities for socialization through activities, and through the Service Coordination Program, physical and mental health can be addressed.”

Some senior scams have been circulating for years. In addition to the grandparent scam, other popular cons include fake telemarketing ploys, such as the pigeon drop and charity solicitations. In the former, the scammer says that a large sum of money has been found and will be split with the senior if he/she makes a good faith payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. The latter focuses on seeking donations for fake charities.

Email and phishing scams are also quite pervasive. In one scenario, a senior receives an email which appears to be from a legitimate company or institution with a request to update or verify personal information, such as his/her Social Security number.

Phone scams have gotten more sophisticated, thanks to the con’s ability to spoof the name and number of a utility company, such as PSE&G, or organization, like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). “Representatives” will try to extract personal information from seniors, a practice which, in fact, is never utilized by either institution.

COVID-19 has provided more opportunities for scammers to swindle seniors. The pandemic has given rise to new ploys, such as those focusing on purchasing a vaccine or test, while providing additional fodder for old deceptions, such as raising funds for fake charities.

“In our educational presentations, we offer tips to help our residents spot a scam,” Ms. Koblitz says. “We encourage them to do some research before making donations, and teach them how to recognize a fake email address or website. We remind them to rely on official sources –  such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Christian Health Care Center – for information about COVID-19 and other health issues.”

Educational programs, such as anti-scam presentations, are part of a pro-active approach taken by the Service Coordination Program to help prevent wrongdoings against residents before a damaging situation occurs.

“Our Service Coordination Program truly is unique,” Ms. Koblitz says. “The program is government-mandated for certain types of senior communities, but not for Siena Village and Summer Hill. We chose to establish it to foster health, healing, and wellness by promoting independence and autonomy.”

Resident need dictates what programs are offered. Information is cultivated through a variety of methods, including floor meetings, social interactions, staff observations, family inquiries, staff observations, and voluntary health assessments.

“Through establishing relationships with residents, the Service and Activity Coordinators fine-tune the program to better equip the seniors to age in place,” Ms. Koblitz says. “We are mission-driven, so we are committed to addressing the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of residents.”

For more information about Siena Village and Summer Hill, contact Karen Hockstein at (201) 848-4463 or khockstein@chccnj.org, or visit ChristianHealthCare.org.