Senior fraud scams are the fastest-growing form of elder abuse. Seniors 65 years of age and older are often the target because scammers believe this population has plenty of money. But wealthy seniors aren’t the only ones targeted. Older adults with low incomes are also at risk.
Financial scams targeting seniors often go unreported. Local law enforcement often views them as “low-risk” crimes. But these scams can leave older adults in a vulnerable position. Many are unable to recover their losses.
Most states have laws that make financial abuse of an older adult a crime. They also provide help to seniors while also punishing the scammer.
What is Financial Eder Abuse and Elder Fraud?
There are different forms of abuse targeting older adults, including physical and mental abuse. Financial elder abuse is another form. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, financial elder abuse is a type of elder abuse that occurs when a scammer or con artist “tries to deceive an older adult with promises of goods, services, or financial benefits that do not exist, were never intended to be provided, or were misrepresented.”
This illegal or improper use of an elderly adult’s money or property is called financial extortion. And unfortunately, it is increasing thanks to internet scams targeting seniors. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, seniors older than 60 lost more than $966 million in elder fraud scams in 2020.
People who fall victim to financial exploitation can suffer in several ways.
They can lose their retirement savings, money they planned to pass down to family members, or funds used to pay bills or buy groceries. But they can also lose their sense of well-being. This can lead to problems such as insomnia, loss of appetite, depression, and anxiety. They may also develop trust issues that can hurt their personal relationships.
Many scams seem legitimate at first. And once the act is done, the older adult may feel embarrassed or angry. They may even suffer from denial. You should reassure your loved one that it’s not their fault. Many people fall victim to fraudsters.
Why are Seniors Often Victims of Financial Abuse?
Scammers and con artists target older adults because they think they are easy prey. Seniors at the greatest risk include those who are:
- Isolated, with limited access to the outside world
- Lonely or may have recently lost a spouse
- Physically or mentally disabled
- Unfamiliar with handling their own money
Scammers are Skilled at Targeting Seniors
Con artists are usually people who need money. For example, they may be unemployed, have a gambling or addiction abuse problem, and are frequently in debt.
Scammers can be anyone — strangers, such as telemarketers or trade workers. Or, they can have a relationship with the victim, such as a friend, doctor, lawyer, or accountant. Some pose as trustworthy helpers, such as family members or caregivers.
They try to get access to paperwork that gives them legal authority to act on behalf of the senior. These documents include authorizing signature cards, powers of attorney, and vehicle registrations. Some fraudsters may work at a bank or other financial institution and hide their misdeeds by changing electronic records.
You can help protect your loved one from being financially exploited or preyed upon by fraudsters like these by looking for signs of financial abuse:
Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
How can you tell if a fraudster has targeted your loved one? Here are some warning signs of elder fraud to look out for:
- Look for changes in your loved one’s signature on checks to be cashed. Swindlers often try to forge signatures on Medicare, Social Security, and pension checks.
- If bank statements are no longer coming to your loved one’s home or the older adult is no longer aware of their current financial well-being, this could signal a problem.
- Look for large or mysterious withdrawals or payments to unknown or suspicious creditors.
- Seniors who are lonely or recently widowed can fall victim to the attention of long-lost relatives, caregivers, or new friends who show a romantic interest in the older adult.
- Look for an unanticipated addition of a caretaker’s name or the removal of the older adult’s name on documents. Changes to wills, powers of attorney, or property titles could signal someone is trying to gain access to their assets or influence financial decisions.
- Scammers often make their victims of financial abuse feel that their unpaid bills or dwindling bank accounts are due to aging.
If you feel your loved one is a victim of financial exploitation, there are ways you can help them during this difficult time.
How to Protect Your Loved Ones Against Financial Exploitation and Fraud Schemes
Here are some ways to protect your loved ones from being targeted by scammers:
- Look for any suspicious activity in your loved one’s bank accounts. Question them about any activities that raise red flags.
- Ask about any unexplained new payments. This is especially important for seniors who are isolated and rely on caregivers or family members.
- Communicate daily and remain as current as possible on what’s happening in their lives. Seniors most vulnerable to scammers are those who do not have a support network.
- Connect your loved ones to technology such as chat messaging, video calls, and text messaging. Video calls are beneficial if you can’t talk face-to-face.
Common Elder Fraud Scams
Here are some common elder fraud scams to look out for:
- Cat-fishing – Many seniors use online services and social media to make friendly or romantic connections. But, some alleged friends may actually be looking to prey upon older adults. These bad actors may provide friendship at first. But they quickly begin asking for money for various crises. Sometimes they may threaten seniors if they don’t pay them.
- Telemarketing or mail fraud – Dishonest telemarketers scam billions of dollars yearly from consumers. They contact seniors by phone or email to conduct credit card fraud, lottery and sweepstakes prize scams, and identity theft.
- Phishing – Phishing is when a scammer uses fake emails, phone calls, or texts to get seniors to provide personal information. They often send messages to seniors pretending they need to update their bank information or verify their passwords. Or they may claim to be from the IRS or another government agency and need access to their Social Security number. But this is just a ploy to steal the older adult’s identity.
- Grandparent scam – Some scammers call an elderly person and claim to be their grandchild. They ask for money for an unexpected financial issue such as a car repair and beg the senior not to tell their parents.
- Home repair scam – Some fraudsters go door-to-door to track down seniors at their homes. They claim they spotted something on the senior’s house that needs fixing. They demand payment upfront and then claim the repair needs more work. But their work is shoddy at best, leaving the senior with a bigger problem despite making a sizable repair payment.
Elder Fraud and Senior Abuse Attorney
It can be difficult to protect yourself and your older loved ones against scams. These criminals are intelligent and skilled at taking advantage of older adults.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or concerns about any suspicious activity or fraudulent schemes.
The Estate, Trust, and Elder Law Firm is here to help you now and in the event of a crisis. Contact our office today at (772) 828-2588 or schedule an appointment online.
Like the Banyan Tree, our mission is to provide shelter & comfort to seniors and their loved ones through legal advocacy and planning solutions.