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SWARTZFAGER: Teens are helping to protect the investments of our elders

Mississippi is the first state in the nation to use intergenerational learning to combat elder investment fraud. While this is not a true statement yet, the Mississippi Council on Economic Education is certainly working on it.

Selena Swartzfager

Selena Swartzfager

If you are wondering why this is one of our missions you should know that the peak age, on average, for financial decision making is 53 years old. Because of this fact, there are many unethical people out there perfectly positioned to take advantage of our seniors. It is estimated that each year $3 billion is swindled from the elderly. Twenty percent of Americans aged 65 or older (more than 7.3 million senior citizens) have already “been taken advantage of financially in terms of an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or outright fraud.” As the Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE) provides services to K-12 teachers and their students, you might wonder what elder investment fraud has to do with our mission. We are currently offering a program titled “Elder Investment Fraud: Teens educating Seniors in MS.”

This program is a pilot to be duplicated in other states if we are able to show success. The main focus of the program is the incorporation of intergenerational learning and service learning. What? MCEE is providing professional development for teachers, who are teaching students, who are then creating service learning projects where they teach the elderly about the pitfalls of elder investment fraud. Sound complicated? Well it isn’t. Teachers are attending workshops and are provided the resources to teach and organize the community forums. These forums can be offered at senior centers, libraries, churches and so on. Red flags that the students will address with seniors are conversations that include any of the following statements: “a chance to get in “on the bottom floor,” “the need to make a decision right now or you’ll miss it,” “the promise of guaranteed profit at minimal risk,” “assurance that a deal is based on insider information” or “reluctance to provide documentation because an offer is based on classified info.”

In an age where engaging young people becomes more difficult due to their short attention spans, most teens will admit to loving and caring about their grandparents. Because they care, they want to do what they can to help their elders. While the elderly are not likely to want advice from their children, they are more willing to take advice from their grandchildren. As a result of these dynamics, this is a perfect model for educating our seniors while also educating our children.

Are you younger than 53 years old but have a parent or grandparent older than 53? Elder investment fraud should concern you.

Are you older than 53 years old? Elder investment fraud should concern you.

As most of us fall into one of these two categories, I think that about covers it. Elder investment fraud should concern us all. Encourage the high school teachers you know to participate in this pilot project. Let’s put Mississippi on the map as being #1 using intergenerational learning to combat fraud.

The Elder Investment Fraud: Teens educating Seniors in MS project is funded by a grant from the Investor Protection Trust (IPT). The IPT is a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education. Since 1993 the IPT has worked with the States to provide the independent, objective investor education needed by all Americans to make informed decisions. www.investorprotection.org.

Source: Infogroup/ORC, Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation (2010); Kiplinger’s (2011)

» Selena Swartzfager is president of the Mississippi Council for Economic Education. She can be reached at swartsc@millsaps.edu.

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