We’ve all heard horror stories of scam artists taking older adults for both small and large sums of money. Whether IRS phone scams, texts claiming cancellations, fake charitable organizations on Facebook, or callers impersonating Medicare representatives, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for seniors to detect what’s a scam and what’s valid. Sometimes deceit becomes exploitation or abuse, a whole new level of evil!
Does hearing these stories make you cry for the suffering or angry at the perpetrators? It does both for our team. As daily money managers, we encounter these schemes on a nearly weekly basis fielding questions from clients, and sometimes it’s only after they have fallen victim. Sadly, scams and financial exploitation are the uncomfortable reality of older adults. How do you help protect older friends and family from these distressing situations? Let’s take a look at some ways to ward off the attacks or recover when you’ve fallen prey.
Let’s Talk About Prevention
It might seem like a difficult topic to discuss because it highlights the fears of being taken advantage of. Thankfully let’s strive for a conversation less about fear and more about empowerment. Some things to discuss with your loved one and social circle include:
- Protect personal information. Never ever give personal information over the phone, such as Social Security numbers, birthdates, or account numbers, especially if you don’t know the caller. Remember that the IRS never calls or emails taxpayers for information!
- Be suspicious. Review any incoming communications, phone, email, and letters for information with curiosity. Why do they need this information?
- Urgency. Requests that elicit a sense of panic and urgency are red flags.
- Stay connected with a community. Oftentimes, older adults fall victim to financial scams and exploitation because they are isolated from others. These adults are viewed as targets because they have fewer resources to seek advice and lack new knowledge of newer types of fraud.
- Consider having all funds directly deposited into an account. This reduces the risk of checks being stolen from the mailbox and lessens the potential for fraudulent checks to be confused with legitimate ones.
Some of the most common scams are over the phone and usually involve Medicare. Scammers know this is a service used mostly by senior citizens and they take advantage of this, posing as a legitimate Medicare provider. These callers claim they need to update the information on the Medicare account, but they are actually trying to get personal identification information such as social security numbers and addresses so they can obtain access to a person’s financial accounts.
A less frequently discussed topic, but a reality facing more and more older adults is the risk of being a victim of financial exploitation, which is defined as the misuse of another person’s money or property. Research indicates that somewhere between 3.5 and 20 percent of older adults have fallen victim to some type of financial exploitation.
Examples of Financial Exploitation:
- Unauthorized use of a debit or credit card
- Demanding signatures on financial documents
- Redirecting financial documents
- Unexplained withdrawals
- Opening new accounts or services
Financial abuse and exploitation can happen to anyone and can be initiated by a stranger, a close friend, caregiver, or family member. Those experiencing new diminishing mental capacity or physical limitations, or both, easily become targets.
What To Do When You Suspect a Scam Or Exploitation
The best thing to do is report these types of activities. If you suspect financial exploitation or abuse is happening to someone, or if you think you might be a victim, you can file a report with your local Adult Protective Services (APS) office. Approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60+ have experienced some kind of abuse. It’s important to intervene early, as financial exploitation can potentially lead to other types of mistreatment, including physical or emotional abuse.
You can also call the non-emergency line to your local sheriff or police department to file a criminal report against the abuser. Check with a local attorney for suggestions on how to obtain legal representation.
At Organized Instincts, our seasoned team of daily money managers can help you come up with a plan to talk to your loved ones about protecting themselves and their assets. Schedule a free consultation today to get the information that could prevent an unpleasant situation.