The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call fraud against the elderly a public health issue.

Among other impacts, seniors deprived of financial resources are more at risk for being unable to access necessary medical care and pay for medications.

Unfortunately, elder financial fraud is on the increase in Sacramento County.

In the past year, seniors have reported being bilked for more than $9.1 million – and that’s just reported cases. Often, the elderly do not report fraud out of embarrassment, fears of being deemed incompetent, or reluctance to report a relative or friend – sadly, most cases of elder fraud are perpetrated by family or friends – not strangers or paid caregivers.

Recently the CDC deemed elder financial fraud a U.S. public health concern, because financial loss can impact seniors’ medical care in various ways. Impaired cognitive capacity, social isolation and rapidly changing technology make older people easy targets for scammers.

The Elder & Health Law Clinic at McGeorge School of Law offers help and guidance for elders who have been victims of fraud.

Melissa Brown and Nicole Egan have developed a unique interactive live theater presentation they have been presenting at senior centers around the Sacramento area.

“No is a complete sentence” is based on real-life cases the clinic has dealt with in recent years, Brown said. Three cases are highlighted: an unlicensed contractor making promises she can’t fulfill; a woman whose neighbor asks her to mortgage her house to help his grandson who is in jail; and a man who persuades his father to sign his house and assets solely over to him.

However, she describes several other common scams in her presentation.

The notorious ‘grandchild’ scam involves a person calling identifying themselves at the elder’s grandchild, claiming to be in jail and asking for bond money. Another telephone scam involves bogus notifications the elder has won a large sum of money (and often a luxury car), but first they must pay the taxes or some other fee in advance of receiving their winnings. In this scheme, the criminal often asks for the money to be transferred by wire or through a prepaid card – popular because of its speed and difficulty in tracing.

Brown chose October-November for her ‘road-show’ debut of “No is a complete sentence” because the Medicare reenrollment period offers the opportunity for scammers to approach older people claiming to be from Medicare and asking for identifying information such as Social Security numbers.

The government – including the IRS, police departments and Medicare -- typically does not contact people by phone asking for their personal information, Brown noted.

Cognitive decline, rapidly changing technology and above all isolation make seniors particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation. However, friends and family who want to help should understand that the elderly have rights – even the right to make bad decisions, and it can be “a delicate balance” between helping and intruding, Brown said.

“We advise people to stay in contact, have good communication,” she said. “If you can, help to review bank accounts be aware of online banking and bill paying – online dating scams. We have a case in our clinic now the man she had never met purported to be high school ex-sweetheart – he sent her flowers and teddy bears and she sent him $200,000."