8 Ways to Protect Older Loved Ones From Fraud
During the pandemic, the crime of financial fraud perpetrated against older adults has soared. In no time, a senior can lose thousands of dollars, even have their life savings wiped out. According to the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California (USC), total annual losses could be as high as $36 billion in the U.S. alone! The crisis is so serious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared it a significant public health problem.
People of any age can fall for a sophisticated con job. But circumstances in later years can put seniors at higher risk. Older adults often have a sizeable nest egg in the bank. Having retired, with children moved away and perhaps the loss of their spouse, they may be lonely, with time on their hands that makes them more likely to engage in conversation with a caller. Not having grown up in the digital age, they may be less aware of internet and social media swindles.
Age-related physical and cognitive changes of aging also may raise the risk that a senior will be defrauded. The USC team cited changes in parts of the brain that are tied to decision-making, social judgement and envisioning one’s future self. They also found that older adults who are frail, in particular with vision and hearing loss, are also more vulnerable.
No matter what your loved one’s health condition, the stakes are just too high to avoid this topic! It’s something we really need to talk about. Yet many older adults feel protective of their financial information. They may balk at interference and implications that they are incompetent. Some older adults who have been defrauded fail to report it, and don’t want their families to know.
Here are some steps to overcome that resistance and get the conversation going so you can help protect your loved one:
Having the conversation after your loved one has been targeted can be tense. Better to bring it up as an interesting subject to discuss. The goal is for them to feel that you’re both on the same side, against a common foe. (Download our RightConversations Guide for tips to help you discuss issues of aging with your loved one.)
There are far more scams targeting seniors than can be covered in this blog, but sharing this “rogue’s gallery” may help build your loved one’s skepticism:
- A “friendly stranger” on the phone. They call with “free offers,” or claim the senior has won a sweepstakes prize or a lottery they’ve never entered. Older adults were raised in a time when it was rude to just hang up on a caller, and might be caught up in “pleasant conversation” that is designed to lower their resistance to the con.
- The not-so-friendly “official.” Some callers are decidedly not friendly sounding! Crooks pretend to be from the IRS, Social Security, the court system, or a senior’s internet provider or bank. They threaten the elder with a fine, impoundment of their bank accounts, loss of their home, or arrest. The caller demands personal information, as well as money, usually via a prepaid credit or debit card, money order, or gift cards.
- “Lonely hearts” scams. In person, or often these days over social media, a con artist starts up a relationship with an older adult in order to access their money. Most typically, the perpetrator invents a name, personality and story, and over time, wins the confidence and affection of a victim, who is convinced they have met their “true love,” and is more than willing to give them money.
- The “grandparent scam.” Using skilled impersonation and manipulation techniques, the caller pretends to be a grandchild or other relative who has been arrested, is ill in a foreign country, or in some other predicament—and needs to have money sent right away.
- Investment fraud. Pyramid schemes, unregistered securities, or “work from home” and “get rich quick” offers are designed to convince seniors to invest quickly, without researching the investment and company.
- Charity fraud. A con artist might set up a phony charity, where little or none of the “donations” go anywhere but into the crook’s pocket. Charitable giving also can fall into a gray area when religious, political or charitable groups induce older adults to make large donations. The group might be legitimate—yet an elder can spend more than they can afford, caught up by an emotional appeal.
Settle in with your loved one and watch scammers in action—dramatizations or even the real thing. The Federal Trade Commission offers a series of informative videos, and AARP has created the “The Perfect Scam” podcast series. Or grab your popcorn and check out “scamming the scammer” videos on YouTube, where the tables are turned on con artists for entertainment and awareness. (This video of a North Carolina police captain has over 27 million views!)
A study from AARP and NORC at the University of Chicago found that 40% of older adults have encountered financial fraud online, and 12% report someone attempting to access their financial accounts. “It is particularly concerning that so many older adults report some form of fraudulent scamming, given the rise of financial and banking apps that can pave the way for scammers to prey on less tech-savvy victims,” said Elizabeth Mumford, principal research scientist at NORC. “The growth in digital technology creates new threats and risks for older adults who may not have grown up in a digital environment.”
Your loved one should know how to change their passwords, contact their bank, and close down their financial accounts or freeze their credit card. Keep on hand a list of places they can report the crime or attempted crime, such as their state consumer protection office, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Once your loved one is scam-savvy, they can help their friends and other older adults be alert for scams, and will be more likely to hang up on a threatening phone call as well as ignore “too good to be true” offers. Protecting others from the wiles of crooks can feel very empowering.
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or other memory loss, and is no longer competent to manage their finances, you or another responsible person may need to step in. There are various ways you can help. Talk to an elder law attorney or an aging life care professional (geriatric care manager) about the options. These professionals may also help with the discussion.
Lonely seniors are at highest risk of being defrauded. Stay in touch with your loved one and help them expand their social opportunities; this can make them less vulnerable to the appeal of “friendly strangers.” A professional in-home caregiver can complement the care provided by family. To ensure that the caregiver is trustworthy and qualified, hire through an agency that screens, trains and performs background checks on the caregivers they send—a much safer option than hiring privately.
Right at Home can match your loved one with a compatible, qualified caregiver to provide companionship and help keep them safe at home. Use our Location Finder to contact your local Right at Home* today and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.
*Home care services vary by location.