As we continue International Fraud Week, Fact Finder Forensics is committed to spreading awareness of fraud in an effort to prevent fraud around the globe and make a difference. The first step to fraud prevention is often awareness of the red flags. Today we are highlighting the key signs that a senior may be experiencing financial abuse and the common schemes to be aware of.
Financial elder abuse is a fast-growing, underreported crime against older adults. It is the theft or embezzlement of money or any property from a senior. This is a serious form of abuse as it can leave elderly persons unable to take care of themselves and provide for their needs.
More than 3.5 million seniors are affected every year. According to the FBI’s 2020 Fraud Report, seniors over 60 reported nearly $1 billion in fraud-related losses, the average loss being $9,175 per senior while others lost more than $100,000. Affected seniors may lose money they saved for retirement, money they planned to pass down to family members, or money they needed their daily needs, such as bills and groceries. These financial losses can lead to serious detriment to their well being.
However, there is power in awareness. Learning the signs of financial elder abuse now can help you protect yourself or a loved one from experiencing serious loss later.
Common Signs of Financial Elder Abuse
Whether your aging parents or other loved ones are living at your home, residing at an assisted living facility, or living alone, it is incredibly important to watch for signs of potential financial abuse.
Here are key signs that a senior loved one is being financially exploited:
Unexplainable or significant withdrawals from financial accounts
The addition of names to a senior’s card
Sudden changes to their financial condition
Missing cash, checkbooks, debit cards, or credit cards
Unpaid bills despite having enough money
Variation in signatures on documents and checks
Unusual changes to wills, power of attorney, or other legal documents
Assets mysteriously transferred
Payments for goods or services they do not use
A secretive relationship with someone online
Appearance of a stranger who forms a new, close relationship and offers to manage finances or assets
A caregiver, relative, or another person seems to restrict their communications and isolate them from contact with others
Who is the Abuser?
Remember: fraudsters aren’t always strangers. Caregivers, friends, and even other family members can take advantage of an older adult’s trust. Family members, caregivers, and even neighbors may commit financial abuse because they see an easy opportunity and have the means to access the victim’s finances. Perpetrators like family members or caregivers may also feel a sense of entitlement and that they deserve compensation for their duties.
Professionals, such as lawyers, bankers, and financial advisors, can also commit elder abuse. They may find ways to cheat victims by engaging in deceptive billing practices or the outright embezzlement of funds. Healthcare professionals and providers can also commit elder abuse by overcharging for healthcare, duplicate billings, or charging for healthcare that is never provided.
How to Protect Yourself from Financial Elder Abuse
Always resist the urge to act quickly. Perpetrators often create a sense of urgency and fear to pressure immediate action. Remember: you can always hang up, step back from the situation, and consult someone you trust.
Do not sign blank checks allowing another person to fill in the amount.
Do not give strangers access to your bank accounts.
Check financial statements frequently and look for unauthorized withdrawals.
Do not be pressured by family members, friends, caregivers, or other persons into doing anything you do not want to do.
Do not leave money or valuables in plain view.
Be aware of common scams by phone, mail, or email and predatory in-person practices.
Common Elder Fraud Schemes
The first step to avoiding elder fraud abuse is to recognize the common types of financial schemes that target older adults, particularly in today’s online landscape.
Grandparent Scam: Perpetrators pose as a relative—usually a child or grandchild—claiming to need urgent financial assistance. These fraudsters may even research targets to use family names and personal information to further win the senior’s trust. Conversely, the fraudster may not even give a name and rely on the senior’s assumption of who it is.
Government Impersonation Scam: Perpetrators pose as a government officials or government employees from the IRS, Medicare, or Social Security Administration. They may request sensitive personal information, such as social security numbers, via email, text message, or phone calls. These fraudsters may also use fines, prosecution, and jail time to threaten and fear-monger victims until they agree to pay or provide information.
Tech Support Fraud: Tech support scammers try pull in seniors with deceptive phone calls, emails, text message, or online pop-up windows. They will say there is a security flaw or a problem that they can fix. As a result, they will request, personal information, payments, or remote access to the victim’s computer.
Home Improvement Scam: These criminals will appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home repairs (window installation, bathroom renovations, etc) that they will never provide.
Romance Scam: Perpetrators pose as interested romantic partners on social media, dating websites, or even in real life. These con artists will slowly build rapport, share fictional details about their situation, and feign common interests to gain trust. At some point during the interactions, the fraudster will find a way to ask for financial aid, often to help with a health emergency or crisis.
Report Financial Elder Abuse
If you believe you or someone you know may have been a victim of elder fraud, file a complaint
with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at https://www.ic3.gov/ , file a complaint with
the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/, or call the National
Elder Fraud Hotline at (833)-372-8311.
Click here to view more resources.
Spread the Knowledge
A little awareness can go a long way. Being aware of the signs of exploitation and recognizing fraudulent schemes is critical to prevention. Share educational resources with family, friends, and other loved ones to remain vigilant and help the fight against fraud.