Financial abuse comes in various forms. One of the most commonly used forms of abuse affecting senior citizens is elder fraud and financial abuse. Elder fraud can have a devastating effect on senior citizens, and unfortunately, it’s happening to millions of Americans right here in Pennsylvania and all across the country. 

What is Elder Fraud?

Criminals that commit elder fraud target senior citizens in an attempt to deceive them to improperly gain access into their financial resources or personal property. Oftentimes, these crimes are committed by family members, close friends, or caregivers, but they can also be committed by complete strangers such as telemarketers or “repair” professionals.

While Americans ages 65 and above are at risk of falling victim to elder fraud, fraudsters are more likely to target those that live alone, no longer have family around, aren’t familiar with managing their finances, or have a physical or mental disability. Fraudsters will pull on seniors’ heartstrings in an attempt to build a more personal relationship. They put on a façade that makes it seem as though they have well intentions, and will communicate with them frequently, whether it’s in person, or via phone, text, email, or online. 

Elderly folks are looked at as easy targets for criminals whose motives are solely to take advantage of them due to their trusting and kind nature and their willingness to help, especially if they think it’s a loved one in need. Since seniors typically have higher savings, great credit, and own a home, these factors make them that much more attractive to criminal masterminds.

Once criminals are confident that they’ve earned their intended target’s trust, that’s when they turn their focus into putting the crime into action. In successful cases, they will even keep the scam going for their own personal financial gain.

Most Commonly Used Scams

Every year, fraudsters persuade elders to give them money with all sorts of different scams. Here are some of the most commonly used scams to be aware of: 

Lottery/Giveaway Sweepstakes: While there are many legitimate sweepstakes that exist, there are just as many that wind up being fraudulent. You get a call, text, or an email that says something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you’ve won!” It may be lottery winnings or an all-inclusive trip. The person on the other end is so excited and happy for you, and after a bit of exchanging pleasantries comes the sudden request for money. They tell you that there are upfront fees, taxes, or custom duties, all of which you’re responsible for. Stop right there—that’s a big red flag. No matter which way you look at it, you’ll wind up losing money instead of winning it.  

Charitable Scams: Donating to charity is very generous and it’s a great way to show your support, but how do you know whether it’s a real charity or a scam? It can be very hard to tell, especially when it seems real or sounds like a group you’ve heard of or donated to in the past. Charity scammers often pressure you to donate money immediately and ask for cash or a wire transfer. They often refuse to send or provide you with detailed information about the charity and are unable to tell you how the money will be used. They may even thank you for a pledge you don’t remember making. 

Grandchild Scams: The phone rings and you pick up the call to a voice on the other end that says, “Grandma, I’m in trouble and need money for bail,” or “I need money to cover my medical bills from an accident.” You sense the urgency and fear in their voice, and then they proceed to tell you it has to be a secret; they don’t want their parents finding out. While you may be inclined to help them right away, how can you be sure the voice on the other end is who they say they really are? 

IRS Scams: You get a call from someone who’s posing as the IRS to request immediate tax payments. They sound serious and threaten to sue, arrest, or deport you, or revoke your driver’s license unless you pay right away. They ask for cash, wire transfers, or to put money on a prepaid debit card. The IRS will never ask you to pay with prepaid cards or wire transfers, and most of the time when they contact you, it’s done by mail and not by phone. 

Romance Scams: You meet a special someone on an online dating website. The scammers can be men and women that make fake profiles and use photos of someone else. As you get closer, the conversations move to email and phone. You start getting more comfortable with that person and decide to share personal details with them. Then all of a sudden he or she asks for money, and it’s urgent. Maybe they claim it’s for a trip to visit you or a medical emergency. They build on the relationship only to then disappear without a trace with your money.
These five scams are some of the most commonly used scams against senior citizens, but unfortunately there are plenty of other scams they use to trick you into giving them money. Remember to stay vigilant and keep your confidential and financial information to yourself and never give this information out to someone, especially when it’s requested via phone, text, or email.

Recognize the Signs

So, how do you know whether or not you or someone you love has been affected by elder fraud and financial abuse? There are some telltale signs you can recognize before it’s too late. Here’s what to watch out for so you can keep it from happening to yourself and your loved ones:  

  • A large number of unpaid bills.

  • Mysterious charges on credit cards.

  • Money and other valuables are disappearing.

  • Abrupt changes to wills or other financial documents.

  • Unusual or large withdrawals or transfers from bank accounts.

  • A change in account beneficiaries such as a “family member” or “family friend” that can access their bank accounts.

Steps to Protect Yourself or Your Loved Ones from Financial Abuse

As the fastest growing form of financial abuse, the NCOA reports that elder fraud affects up to 5 million older Americans every year, and the annual loss is estimated to be around $36.5 billion. Aside from seniors being robbed of their savings that’s accumulated throughout their lifetime, their dignity and quality of life may also be drastically affected as a result of elder fraud as well.

The good news is there are steps you can take to better protect yourself and your loved ones from elder fraud and financial abuse. Ensure peace of mind by:  

  1. Recognizing red flags.

  2. Staying connected with family on a daily basis through visits, calls, texts, and emails.

  3. Monitoring your credit report annually.

  4. Tracking financial activity on a frequent basis to ensure you don’t see any suspicious or unauthorized charges/financial activity.

  5. Never giving out confidential and personal information to people via texts, emails, or calls, regardless of who they claim they are.

  6. Shredding personal documents that have your address, social security number, or bank account information on it to ensure that it is safely discarded.

  7. Thoroughly reading and understanding any documents that need a signature.

  8. Reporting any fraudulent activity to your financial institution and local authorities.

Remember, the more you know the better protected you’ll be.

Whether or not you’ve personally experienced elder fraud and financial abuse or have witnessed another loved one endure it, it’s absolutely devastating to watch it unfold. It’s a serious concern, and unfortunately it’s one that’s extremely difficult to combat. Senior citizens have a hard time coming to terms with the reality of the situation and often feel too embarrassed, confused, or afraid to report it. 

The best thing you can do for them is to be there for them. It’s important for them to know they have a trustworthy person that’s on their side to help them get through it.  

Also, know that all of us at GOLD are here for you, too. If you suspect you’re the victim of elder fraud and financial abuse, please reach out to us at 484-223-4200 and report it to your local authorities immediately. 

Carol Heffner

Carol Heffner

Carol is the Training and Development Manager at GOLD. In her role, she oversees the learning and continued development of the GOLD team to ensure each team member has the depth of knowledge crucial to providing Members with a consistently outstanding service experience. She believes in GOLD’s Mission, Vision, and Values and is dedicated to serving as a positive role model by acting with HEART.

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