Scammers have no limits to their cons. They often prey on the elderly with their unscrupulous tactics. Every year millions of seniors fall victim to financial exploitation. Predators use scare tactics, manipulation, and empty promises to steal or con older adults out of money, assets, and property. And perpetrators are often someone the victim knows and trusts. Unfortunately, many incidents of elder financial abuse are never reported because the victims are ashamed or embarrassed that they were defrauded. Let’s examine some of the key warning signs of elder financial abuse and discuss how to protect our seniors.
Identifying the Predators
Financial abuse of the elderly can come from a stranger or someone the senior knows and trusts. Far too often seniors are taken advantage of by caregivers, professionals, clergy, friends, and even family. Oftentimes those legally authorized to handle the elderly person’s finances may misuse the funds that are supposed to be spent on necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, medicine and healthcare. Caregivers may pressure or outright con the older adult out of their property or possessions through promises to care for them. Family members may use family ties to coerce the elderly to give them access to bank accounts, valuables, or credit cards. There are even instances where seniors have been tricked into signing over power of attorney to people that only use the authority to defraud them. While spotting financial abuse may be difficult, there are some telltale signs of potential problems. Some of the warning signs may be clear, while others are more subtle.
Warning Signs to Look For
Changes in a person’s financial patterns can be a sign that they are being exploited. Here are a few red flags to look out for:
- Unusual bank account activity such as large or frequent withdrawals
- Money missing from accounts
- Assets put into someone else’s name, especially if that person is unfamiliar to the family
- Credit card balances suddenly increase
- Unpaid bills
- Missing possessions
- Closing savings accounts without regard to penalties
- New joint accounts opened or credit cards showing up in the senior's name
- New activity on previously inactive accounts
- Large unexpected loans or reverse mortgage initiated
- Checks written as “gifts” to someone unfamiliar or made out to “cash”
- A caregiver, relative, or friend conducting financial transactions without authorization or proper documentation
- Sudden or unauthorized changes to the elder's will
- Changes in the senior’s mood, behavior, or spending pattern
- The elder does not know how much income they receive
- Financial decisions, such as investments or purchases, are made that the elder does not fully understand
- Sudden or suspicious changes in wills or powers of attorney
If you suspect that your loved one is being taken advantage of financially, don’t hesitate to speak with them right away. Keep in mind that discussing money matters can be a very sensitive subject, so approach the task with empathy. Also, communicate with others that are frequently around the senior such as caregivers, friends, and social workers to see if they notice anything that would cause alarm or suspicion.
Where to Seek Help
Any suspected elder fraud or financial abuse should be reported immediately. It is the job of the authorities, professionals, and regulators to investigate the situation, but they won’t know unless it’s reported. It is often difficult to know where to turn. Here are a few resources that can provide assistance.
- Promptly contact law enforcement or local police to report immediate danger
- Adult Protective Services can help victims that live alone or in a non-institutional setting
- Eldercare.gov provides support services for seniors and their families. Help can be found on https://eldercare.acl.gov/ or by calling (800)-677-1116
- Contact the bank, credit union, and/or credit card company to report suspected fraud
- If the fraud involves a professional, contact the licensing agency to file a complaint
- Nursing home victims exploited by staff can contact the state’s nursing home ombudsman for help reporting abuse
Seniors can be proactive in guarding against scams. There are many types of scams that target the elderly, including sweepstakes, investment, real estate, tech support, and work from home scams. Before providing any personal information, do your research. Any offer that sounds too good to be true probably is. Never give your driver’s license, social security number, banking information, or access to your personal data to anyone that you have not checked out thoroughly. Don’t wire money, pay for goods or services with gift cards, or send cash to anyone you don’t know or trust. Ask someone you trust to double check and see if the transaction you’re considering may be a scam. Contact Business Consumer Alliance to check out a business or professional and to file a complaint, if needed.
Some other things you may want to consider are:
- Allowing a trusted relative or friend access to monitor transactions. If things don’t look right, have them take a look. You don’t have to allow them the right to access funds.
- If you need a trusted family member or friend to help you with bill paying or banking, consider a “convenience” or “agency” account. These accounts are set up so that your money is used for your benefit, but they allow a relative or friend to assist with writing checks, paying bills and other account business.
- Check with your financial institution for education materials, resources, and events to help protect your money and avoid fraud.
Business Consumer Alliance promotes ethical business and strives to help consumers make informed buying decisions. Share this important information with others, especially the elderly. Make sure to follow BCA on Facebook for more tips, consumer alerts, and scam watch articles to keep informed.