What Elder Financial Abuse Is & What You Can Do
Elder Financial Abuse is one of the most despicable crimes committed because it targets our senior population and often wipes out the victim’s entire life savings. Fraudsters target the elderly because they know that they will likely get a larger payout for their efforts. The US Census Bureau estimates the number of adults over 65 will represent 20% of the population by 2030, compared to 13% in 2010. According to estimates, elder financial abuse puts billions of dollars into fraudsters’ pockets, so the expected growth in the elder population will likely make elder fraud more and more attractive to fraudsters.
Based on the growing numbers associated with elder fraud, there are both national and international initiatives to raise awareness of elder financial exploitation. Some of the efforts are directed at teaching elders and family members how to recognize elder financial fraud scams and avoid substantial financial losses. Congress designated May 15, 2019 “National Senior Fraud Awareness Day” to raise awareness and to “encourage the implementation of policies to prevent these scams from happening, and to improve the protection from these scams for seniors.” Additionally, the United Nations has set aside June 15 each year as “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day” to provide an opportunity for the world to voice their opposition to elder abuse.
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Some of the most common scams involving the elderly are as follows:
Romance scams – this type of scam involves someone the elder meets online who may work for weeks, and in some cases months, towards developing a relationship with their victim. The fraudster uses this time period to establish trust with the elder before asking for financial assistance, either in the form of processing fraudulent items on their behalf or by requesting funds for travel-related expenses so that they may visit their victims. If travel funds are requested, the fraudster usually asks the elder to send a money gram, a wire or, in some cases, a gift cards. Once a money gram or wire is sent, it is difficult to recover the funds as these types of activity make the funds immediately available to the fraudster. Gift cards are a little more complex, as the elder must purchase the card and provide the numbers on the back of the card in order for them to used. However, once the cards are activated the funds cannot be recovered.
Exploitation by a family member or fiduciary – This is one of the most difficult situations for the elderly as it involves someone close to them. Exploitation of this type involves direct access to the elder’s funds, either through use of a debit/credit card or by co-ownership of the victim’s account. This type of fraud occurs when the trusted individual begins making purchases and/or withdrawals for personal use, without the consent of the victim. In some cases, the exploiter may bring the elder to the financial institution to physically withdraw the funds, prepping the elder beforehand on what to say when making the withdrawals to divert suspicions by the financial institution.
Theft by caregiver – As with family members and fiduciaries, a caregiver is a trusted individual who may have access to elder’s credit card/debit card or checks. Transactions are made by the caregiver without consent.
These are just some of examples of elder financial exploitation and there are many more. The important thing to remember is to report suspicious financial activity as quickly as possible to avoid substantial losses. Report suspicious activity to the elder’s financial institution and/or their credit card company. You can report financial exploitation by filing a report online with Adult Protective Services.