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"Sweet honey – bitter sting" – a course on how to spot and combat consumer exploitation of senior citizens.

A Tel-Hai college, Social Work Faculty, and the "Galilean Senior Citizen Association" Project.

This is an age of demographic transition – human society is changing its makeup in an unprecedented manner. Even in Israel, with its uniquely high birthrate (for the Western World), the population is growing older, with senior citizens making up an ever-larger portion of the consumer body. The dark side of this transition is that certain businesses have adapted predatory practices oriented in a perception of senior citizens as easy prey for consumer and financial fraud.

In accordance with UN data, and that of the Consumer Protection Agency in the United States, during the Corona crisis a significant rise has occurred in consumer fraud versus the elderly by businesses and service providers. One of the reasons for this is the correlation between loneliness and the vulnerability of senior citizens to consumer fraud. Elderly living alone have been found to be particularly vulnerable. Accordingly, the corona crisis is a golden opportunity for unscrupulous businesses to prey on the feelings of isolation and fear of senior citizens, pressuring them with indirect (or direct) threats, informational overload and emotional manipulation.

"Given the above, we have seen fit to launch this project now, in the midst of the crisis, in order to provide consumer knowledge to the elderly, in order to help them protect their consumer rights and avoid consumer exploitation" says project leader, Dr. Lawyer Michal Segal, of the Department of Social Work in Tel-Hai College. The Idea for the project grew out of her PhD thesis which concerned protection of the consumer rights of the elderly. The course includes 4 online sessions focusing on: informed consumerism, exposure to types of exploitive transactions targeting the elderly, and the protective measures available to elderly consumers in defending their consumer rights.

The social work students in Tel-Hai College recruited the senior citizens to the course, were present in it, and accompanied them throughout the meetings passed by Dr. Segal, who explains: "In the course we learned of transactions in which elderly citizens are usually involved. For example, telemarketing transactions, and senior citizen oriented medical services, and how the consumer protection act addresses such transactions. We examined the possibilities to cancel transactions and discovered entities most senior citizens are unaware of – the Israeli Consumer Council, the Consumer Protection and Fair Trade Authority who can help them protect their consumer rights.

We also learned of the small claims court which was established to help consumers file consumer claims at low costs. We examined the feelings of the elderly after they are exploited as consumers: fear, and shame to reveal to their family members that they were exploited commercially. During the course, the senior citizens see movies that illustrate what consumer exploitation of the elderly looks like and examines how the rise in commercial exploitation of senior citizens during the pandemic is dealt with around the world. In addition, they learn of the sales techniques of businesses oriented at defrauding elderly consumers (intimidation, threats of lawsuits, preventing the senior citizen from consulting with his family members and so forth).

Elderly consumers who are exploited usually feel shame and self-blame, which is why an open discourse on consumer exploitation enabled the participants to recognize that they are not alone and that each and every one of us can be a target of commercial exploitation. The course gave many people the legitimacy they needed to approach me and ask questions about their own experiences of commercial exploitation, or else consult about wise consumerism."

This important course was developed in cooperation with the Galilean Senior Citizen Association, with the goal of implementing it nationwide in the future.



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