Consumer Tips for Fiscal Fitness: Preventing Elder Financial Abuse

Financial fraud continues to be the fastest growing form of elder abuse. As the senior population in this country increases, so do the financial crimes committed against these vulnerable and trusting individuals. Elder abuse is particularly hard to combat because it frequently goes unreported, as do financial scams — making elder financial scams a relatively “low-risk” crime. Elderly victims are often confused, afraid or embarrassed to report crimes against them so the best way to protect your older loved ones is to educate them about common scams. 

Unfortunately, it’s not always strangers perpetrating these crimes. According to the National Council on Aging, the majority of reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often the adult children. Even within your own family, it’s important to be vigilant and aware of happenings with elderly loved ones. Below is information about common types of fraud against seniors as well as advice for seniors when approached by scammers.

Common Scams

Telemarketing, email and sweepstakes scams — a scammer calling seniors about sweepstakes or a lottery they won that requires advance fees or upfront charges. Or, seniors receive an email asking them to wire money to a stranger as part of a financial windfall that will be split with them. Also, there is the fake governmental agency call to get access to seniors’ government benefits or social security numbers.

  • The Grandparent Scam: A perpetrator pretends to be a grandchild, law enforcement officer or medical professional with a story that the grandchild is in legal or medical trouble and needs money immediately to resolve the issue.
  • Medicare Fraud: Con artists pose as Medicare representatives to solicit a senior’s personal information for the purpose of identity theft. 
  • Investment Schemes: A scammer promises massive returns on an investment or offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 
  • Repair Fraud: A repair person contacts a senior about a necessary service and requires payment upfront — often for services that are never provided or are not needed.
  • Funeral and Cemetery Scams: A perpetrator scans obituaries and contacts the grieving widow or widower with a claim that the deceased had an outstanding debt. Or, a disreputable funeral home uses a senior’s unfamiliarity with funeral costs to add unnecessary charges.

How to Handle 

Fake sweepstakes and telemarketing scams are the most common forms of fraud that impact seniors. The following is senior fraud prevention guidance from the National Crime Prevention Council, outlining five ways to make unwanted telemarketers go away. It is advised to practice these with your elderly loved ones. Remind seniors in your life that they can, and should, ask telemarketers to remove them from their call lists. If the telemarketers don’t, they’re breaking the law.

Never give personal information (bank account, social security number, etc.) to anyone over the phone, unless you initiated the call and know you’ve reached the right agency.

  • Response: “I don’t give out personal information over the phone. I’ll contact the company directly.”

Don’t believe it if the caller tells you to send money to cover the “handling charge” or to pay taxes.

  • Response: “I shouldn’t have to pay for something that’s free.”

“Limited-time offers” shouldn’t require you to make a decision on the spot.

  • Response: “I’ll think about it and call you back. What’s your number?”

Be suspicious of anyone who tells you not to discuss the offer with someone else.

  • Response: “I’ll discuss it with my family and friends and get back to you.”

If you don’t understand all the verbal details, ask for it in writing.

  • Response: “I can’t make a decision until I receive written information, then I’ll follow up with you.”

In addition to ensuring that seniors in your life know warning signs and scams to look out for, it’s important that they come to a loved one for advice before they take action when approached by someone asking for money or personal information. The best rule of thumb for seniors to avoid being victimized by a stranger is to never provide personal information, and don’t send money or provide a credit card number to “verify,” “guarantee” or “process” a prize.

Christopher Williston is the president and chief executive officer of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, the largest state community banking association in the nation. The information above is provided with the understanding that IBAT is not engaged in rendering specific legal, accounting or other professional services. This information is intended to be a helpful guide. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional person should be sought.


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