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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Officials contend with rise in scams, financial exploitation of older adults

Sen. Marissa Jiménez Santoni

By The Star Staff

Some 1,550 complaints involving scams and the financial exploitation of senior citizens were filed with the Office of the Elderly Advocate in fiscal year 2022-2023, according to a report Sunday.

Senators Marissa Jiménez Santoni and Keren Riquelme Cabrera met with Family, Justice, and Public Safety department officials to find solutions to the problem. Losing money or possessions to scams, fraud and/or exploitation can be especially devastating to older adults, who are often unable to earn back what they’ve lost.

Among the proposals presented is hiring intercessors to assist older adults when they go to court to testify in romantic and financial fraud cases. Another proposal entails increasing resources to the Puerto Rico Police Bureau to train personnel for this type of crime and educational programs targeting the island’s senior population, which, as of 2022, exceeded 760,000.

Besides romantic scams, other scams that target senior citizens involve health care/Medicare/health insurance fraud, counterfeit prescription drugs, funeral and cemetery scams, fraudulent anti-aging products, telemarketing, internet fraud, investment schemes, and homeowner/reverse mortgage scams.

Older adults may be especially vulnerable to online scams because they may not be familiar with the less visible aspects of web browsing, such as firewalls and built-in virus protection.

“The figures on fraud schemes against our seniors are very worrying. According to data from the Office of the Elderly Advocate, for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, about 1,500 complaints were received by the agency’s exploitation office. The Office of the Citizen Ombudsman registered 123 complaints,” said Jiménez Santoni, the Carolina District senator. “We have to address these numbers urgently, and that is why we summoned these agencies to a summit meeting to come up with real ideas and proposals we can implement short-term.”

The panel endorsed Jiménez Santoni’s initiative to compile all laws that serve senior citizens in a new Code for Older Adults, thus simplifying their execution.

“I agree with Senator Jiménez. The data presented at this meeting are very worrying,” said Riquelme Cabrera, an at-large senator. “Puerto Rico is in the midst of the most significant demographic change in its entire history. Last year, only 18,000 babies were born, meaning the number of older adults will continue to grow exponentially. Therefore, protecting this important sector of our society has to be robust and even more so concerning fraud, since they are more susceptible to it.”

Among those attending the Sunday morning forum, held in the Capitol and lasting several hours, were the head of the Administration for Families and Children, Glenda L. Gerena; Eddie Olivera of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP); Liza Morales of the Department of Justice; Aled Calderón of the Department of Public Safety; and Stephanie Rivera and Dyrhow Adorno of the Office of the Elderly Advocate.

Riquelme Cabrera also promoted mass orientation initiatives for older people.

“The figure of the intercessor is important to the extent that cases are filed, as well as greater prevention,” Jiménez Santoni said. “We do this through an aggressive orientation campaign. We will not abandon our older adults.”

The officials agreed to meet again in February to review the progress of the effort.

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