Electronic exploits have many names: phishing, smishing, social engineering, etc. And we are all targets of these scams. Especially during seasons that involve finances, such as the Holiday Season, see: Holiday Shopping Cyber Security Tips and Tax Season, see: Tips for This Tax Season – Cyber Security Edition.
But one group which is seemingly constantly under attack regardless of the time of year is the elderly. Financial exploitation of elderly people is the most reported form of senior abuse. Many seniors may not be aware of the scams that target them. Some may be living with an abusive caregiver and others are isolated from family and friends who could give advice and guidance.
One of the first steps to thwarting financial elder abuse is to become aware of the types of scams that are preying on seniors. To this point, the most common schemes include:
- A fake prize which requires fees and taxes to be paid in order to claim a prize that does not exist
- Fake charities asking for donations
- Fraudulent investment schemes promising high returns
- IRS scams about fraudulent tax payments
- Medical fraud for unnecessary tests, drugs, and equipment
Those who take advantage of seniors are not just hackers running a scam, but could be caregivers, medical professionals, friends, and even family of the targeted person. These individuals are typically trusted by the elderly and are providing daily care or companionship, yet are taking advantage of their personal connections to commit financial crimes. Checks, credit and debit cards, account information, and legal documents (e.g. deed to real estate) can all be used and exploited by an abuser who has access to these items.
Another step to being vigilant about thwarting financial elder abuse is to pay close attention to any irregular activity. Signs of possible elder financial abuse include:
- Frequent or large withdrawals
- Changes to the elder’s financial condition
- Valuables or cash missing from the household
- Changes to wills, power of attorney and titles
- An addition of names to signature cards
- Unnecessary goods, services or subscriptions
An abuser who has access to the elder’s personal and financial documents may even attempt to steal the identity of the senior.
Abuse by a caregiver may go unreported because of fear of retaliation. The abuse may be more than financial and care should be given while discussing matters with the senior, caregiver, or authorities.
If you suspect a senior is being abused, first speak with them to garner as much information as you can about the situation and then contact an agency that can help. Groups such as Adult Protective Services, who can be reached via its hotline at (800) 222-8000, can step in to handle the issues without fear of damaging personal relationships.
The simple steps of staying educated and taking action when you suspect wrongdoings can go a long way in preventing this terrible form of abuse.
WealthManagement.com, “How To Talk to Seniors about Fraud”, October 2017.
AARP.org, “Spot Elder Financial Abuse”, Consumer Protection Report.
National Center on Elder Abuse, ncea.acl.gov.