Older people have a number of traits that make them both appealing, and vulnerable, to scammers. They have often accumulated a nest egg for their golden years. They are caring and generous, especially to their loved ones. They may not be tech-savvy. And they may be lonely and isolated, making them willing to open up to someone who shows interest in them. All of those factors combine to create a perfect storm for elder financial abuse: someone with money who can be manipulated, tricked, or persuaded to give it up.
A senior doesn’t need to have Alzheimer’s or cognitive impairment to be at risk of financial scams, but having memory problems can make someone an even easier target. If you have elderly loved ones, here are some things you can do to protect them from elder fraud abuse.
Forewarned is Forearmed
Sometimes, just knowing what scams are out there can help protect seniors. Then, when they get the email, phone call, or knock on the door, they may think, “Aha! I’ve heard about this,” and be on the alert. We’ve written in the past about common financial scams that often target older people.
These include things like phone scams in which a caller pretends to be a grandchild in distress who needs money urgently (so there’s no time to confirm with their parents); dishonest contractors who are offering “special deals” because they’re in the neighborhood today; charity scams, and texts or emails that something is wrong with an Amazon order or bank account. Calls and emails that purport to be from the IRS or Social Security Administration also strike fear into the hearts of elder Americans who think they could lose their benefits or refund or even be arrested if they don’t comply with a request.
Many older people may scoff at the idea that they could be taken in. Then, when it happens, there’s a sense of deep shame and unwillingness to let family members know what has happened. That’s why it’s important to tell your family member how common elder scams are and how sophisticated they have gotten, and urge them to tell you immediately if they think they’ve been tricked.
COVID and Financial Scams
What’s more, since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, AARP reports that financial exploitation of older adults has doubled. And it’s easier than ever for con artists to get the cash. Phone scammers may direct seniors to download apps like CashApp, Venmo, Zelle and Coinbase so they can send cash directly from their bank accounts. If your parent has had COVID-19 and has “long COVID,” the “brain fog” that is associated with that condition could make them even more vulnerable.
There has been an eruption of COVID-related financial scams, but some of the increase in elder fraud during the pandemic stems from simple opportunity and increased vulnerability of lonely, isolated seniors.
The Call is Coming From Inside the House
It’s one thing to tell a parent not to give financial information to someone who calls or emails them unsolicited. But what do you do when the person financially exploiting an elder is a family member? Sadly, that is all too common. Some estimates are that two-thirds of financial scams or exploitation are committed by family members. It may be a caretaker child who takes money from mom’s checking account for their own use; a grandchild who steals money, jewelry, or other valuables during a visit; or a “black sheep” niece or nephew who repeatedly calls asking for financial assistance, pleading to keep the request a secret from the family.
Seniors may be especially reluctant to report financial abuse by a family member because they don’t want to get that person in trouble or cause a rift in the family. If you suspect your parent is at risk of being taken advantage of by a relative, you may want to consider asking them to execute a durable financial power of attorney if they are legally capable of doing so, so that you or another trusted person can manage their finances. If they are legally incapacitated, a conservatorship may be necessary to protect them.
Protecting Seniors From Financial Scams
There’s another simple measure you can take to protect your older family members from financial scams: staying in regular contact. Many of the scams older people fall victim to are perpetrated by someone the older person believes they have a close relationship with. That may be a neighbor, local service provider, or family member.
It could also be a phone scammer who calls repeatedly, developing a “relationship” and giving the senior what they crave: company and personal attention. By the time the caller asks for money, the older person doesn’t feel like they’re getting scammed; they’re helping someone they feel they know and trust.
Life gets busy, we know, but it’s important to keep in regular contact with older family members and to know what’s going on with them. When they feel connected to the people who truly love them, they may be less vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them.
If you learn that someone has exploited or defrauded your elderly family member, you need to know how to report phone scams and other financial scams. Give that information to your loved one, too, so they can help to protect themselves.
For more information on protecting seniors from financial abuse, contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.