South Coast’s older population flooded White’s of Westport June 14 as the Bristol County District Attorney’s office and Coastline Elderly Services put on their annual Celebration of Seniors event, the day before World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The one-stop shop for information and support for older adults had more than 600 attendees plus about 200 vendors and aging professionals in attendance.

Held each June, Celebration of Seniors raises awareness about elder abuse and fraud, a growing issue as scammers and scams targeting older people increase.

Speaking to the 600-plus seniors enjoying their breakfast, U.S. District Attorney for Massachusetts Joshua S. Levy warned attendees to be on their guard.

“About 1 in 10 folks who are seniors are victimized by scams, either online, on the phone, or through the mail,” he said. “That means 60 people sitting in this room are going to be a victim of scams. That means a lot more (in this room) are going to be contacted and tried to be enticed into giving away their money, giving away their bank account information, or providing their personal information.”

“(The impact) is not just about money,” Levy continued. “It can create family stress when you’ve been victimized, and you lose your money. It can dash your dreams of what you want to do in your retirement if your nest egg is taken by one of these scammers.”

District Attorney Thomas Quinn Jr. told participants that he understands they are nice people who have been taught to be polite to callers, but that the best solution is to not pick up the phone, if you don’t know the caller.

“I have sympathy with you,” Quinn said. But, “You should not communicate with anybody you don’t know.”

“The nature and extent of the scamming and the fraud and the harm that is being done to you and your friends is not going away,” said AARP Massachusetts State Director Mike Festa. “It is getting worse.”

An annual presence at Celebration of Seniors, Festa was speaking for his last engagement there, as he retires from AARP Massachusetts after 11 years as state director.

“This is about prevention,” Festa said. “It’s not natural to hang up on someone. (But) hang up on them. Make it easy. And if it’s your daughter and she calls you back, say “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it was you.”

In addition to fraud awareness, Celebration of Seniors helps share information about elder care services, according to Coastline CEO Justin Lees.

“The complexity of aging services can be hard to navigate for older adults and, while help is always available, it can be intimidating to talk about your vulnerabilities with a stranger,” Lees said. “Having an event like Celebration of Seniors lets older people start conversations and ask questions face-to-face without having to commit to something. That introduction may be all it takes for someone to pick up the phone and call for help when they need it and are ready for it.”

Seventy vendors were on site offering information on the many services available to older adults, including supplemental health programs, estate planning, advocacy support, hospice care, medical alerts, and more.

Fall River Vision showcased its mobile services, providing eyecare in a home, nursing home, or group home environment. After an initial free phone consultation, a home appointment can be made if the individual has a medical reason they cannot go to the office, said Ruben Martinez, licensed optician, including on weekends when family members can be there to support them.

Other programs offered more socially oriented support for seniors.

Despite the perception that older LGBTQ+ adults are often not open about their identities, the South Coast LGBTQ+ Network’s programs for older adults are the most well attended, said KJ Farias, a staff member.

“We have more trouble reaching the youth,” Farias said, citing popular programs like the Senior Supper Club, Munchies, and Bowling nights.
The LGBTQ+ Network also offers elder support services, Farias said, including laundry, home care and more.