Elder financial abuse destroys lives and costs seniors a whopping $37 billion each year. Dr. Stacey Wood, Ph.D, one of the nation’s leading experts on elder financial abuse, shares 8 ways caregivers can help seniors avoid scams and fraud.
Today, people over age 50 hold over 70% of the country’s wealth. But elder financial abuse is all too common.
Fraudsters target older adults using a variety of scams and manage to steal $37 billion each year from American seniors.
Older people who are no longer working may be the most vulnerable to fraudsters. This is especially true if they also have disabilities and need to rely on others for access to the community and other assistance.
Some scams may specifically target vulnerabilities of certain seniors. They may also rely on well-known brand names or someone’s unfamiliarity with technology and social media.
Another popular scam technique is to push emotional hot buttons about romance, desirability, or even familial love.
We explain how caregivers can help prevent elder fraud and share 8 ways to protect seniors from scammers.
We also explain what to do if you suspect that your older adult is the victim of fraud.
How caregivers help prevent elder fraud
As a caregiver, you can help the seniors in your life avoid fraud and financial scams.
You can start by having a discussion about common scams and ways that seniors can protect themselves.
You could also help them visit their bank, financial adviser, or a lawyer to get more advice.
Encourage senior family members to ask for details in writing before engaging in any financial transactions. Then, have them take those written details to their lawyer or financial advisor for a second opinion.
8 ways to protect seniors from financial frauds and scams
1. Stay involved in their life
The most important thing is to stay connected with your older adult.
By staying involved in their life, you can help to protect them from the risks associated with isolation and loneliness – including fraud and scams.
2. Get a copy of their credit report every year
Review their credit report together with them to make sure that it’s accurate. If there are any errors, correct them immediately.
3. Buy a shredder
By bringing a paper shredder into the home, you can help your older adult shred unwanted credit card offers, financial statements, and receipts.
This reduces the chance that others can access their personal information.
4. Stay alert to signs of fraud
Keep an eye out for signs of potential financial fraud and abuse in your older adult’s life.
For example, someone who was always very frugal may start to make large withdrawals from the bank.
Or suddenly, historically careful seniors may have unpaid bills, collection calls, or insufficient funds fees from their bank.
Even frequent ATM use by people who previously always visited the bank in person could be a warning sign.
5. Be aware of new friends and romances
New friends can be a welcome part of a senior’s life, but loneliness can also be a gateway for fraudsters.
In person, a new friend may take special interest in going to the bank with your older adult or offer suspicious financial or estate planning services.
Romance scams targeting elders are increasingly common, but older adults may feel shy about discussing romantic or sexual issues with you.
These fake new friends and romantic interests may even try to convince seniors that their family members don’t have their best interests at heart.
Some of these individuals abuse the trust placed in them to handle financial matters and provide physical assistance.
Unethical family members or caregivers could pressure seniors to change their wills or give them large cash “gifts” or “loans.”
7. Teach seniors about online and social media fraud
Although in-person fraud continues to be all too common, online fraud is currently on the rise.
Don’t hesitate to teach your older adult about the dangers of connecting with people online and through social media as well as how common it is for internet fraudsters to pretend they’re someone else.
Encourage them to investigate to make sure that new online friends are who they say they are. Often, these fake “friends” and “lovers” can be overseas, making them especially difficult to track.
If your older adult starts to wire large amounts of money overseas or send funds via Western Union, this is typically a major red flag of a fraudster in their life.
8. Be supportive and sensitive after a scam
If your older adult gets scammed, they may feel ashamed and embarrassed about falling for the scheme.
That could make them reluctant to talk about what happened.
Responding warmly and non-judgmentally helps seniors feel supported and be more willing to discuss the situation with professionals like law enforcement, lawyers, or financial advisors.
What to do if you suspect financial abuse
If you suspect that your older adult is a victim of financial abuse, don’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away – these scams can be devastating.
Reach out to them and ask gentle questions to find out why their financial situation is changing or if someone in their life is pressuring them to do things.
If there are other close family members that you trust, ask them about your older adult’s financial changes and whether they know why they are occurring.
You can also report the fraud to their bank. Banks lose large sums of money due to fraud and are interested in stopping it. Plus, financial fraud is a crime so local police also have a responsibility to investigate reports of scams.
Calling Adult Protective Services is another option, especially if a family member or hired caregiver is involved.
Recommended for you:
- Prevent Elder Fraud by Getting Rid of Junk Mail
- How to Help Aging Parents with Finances: Getting Started Guide
- Protect Against 3 Common Scams Targeting Seniors: Medicare, Prescription Drugs, Reverse Mortgage
Guest contributor: Dr. Stacey Wood, Ph.D., is a forensic neuropsychologist and one of the nation’s leading experts on financial elder abuse and fraud. She is the Molly Mason Jones Professor of Psychology at Scripps College and a licensed clinical psychologist in California. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the areas of forensic neuropsychology and geropsychology, Dr. Wood has vast experience as an expert witness in California and nationwide.
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