Statistics show that financial fraud is the biggest form of elder abuse. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released data that shows that in 2021 as many as 92,371 elderly people became victims of financial fraud leading to a loss of $1.7 billion. That is a very big and scary number and it goes to show how rapidly this is growing.
A broad definition of financial fraud for the elderly is when someone uses a vulnerable senior citizen's money or property illegally or without their knowledge. It targets older people and exploits them through financial fraud or theft.
A financial scam can be extremely devastating and stressful for the elderly as it leaves them in a vulnerable position. It is very difficult for them to recover from a financial loss at that stage in their life and this takes a toll on them. The worst part is financial scams are underreported and can also be tough to prosecute and that’s why they are considered low-risk crimes.
Scammers usually target senior citizens because they are not tech-savvy and can be easily scammed over the phone, on social media, or on other online platforms. They also have memory issues, which makes them say or share things that they might not remember later. Usually, senior citizens have a considerable amount of savings and that makes them an easy target.
Statistics show that 60-90% of cases of elder financial abuse are committed by family, friends, and children, which is shocking but true. So, let’s find out how you can protect your parents, grandparents, or any other elder that you know or care for from the different kinds of financial fraud.
The first and most important thing you can do to protect seniors is to make them aware of financial scams. Making them understand that more than 90% of financial elder abuse is committed by people they know - family members, friends, and adult children or grandchildren. The most common tactics involve using a joint checking account, not providing care in exchange for money, physical abuse, or even theft.
Being aware of the different ways their near and dear ones can abuse is very important when it comes to protecting themselves and their money.
Statistics show family violence happens only behind closed doors and the same goes for financial or any other form of elder abuse. Isolation is a big risk for elders as it withdraws them from a larger community and people they can seek help from.
Usually, seniors isolate themselves and stay at home because of the fear of being mugged or purse snatching. Some isolate themselves as they lose their ability to walk, drive or see on their own. They don’t like to be dependent on others and hence stop stepping out. But isolating can make elders more vulnerable to scammers. Being involved in a community or staying active is very important to protect them from preying scammers. If you are finding it difficult to step out or meet people, then find local senior centers in your area, they can help you or any elders you know involved in activities and meet other senior people.
This is an easy and very common way to abuse seniors! Scammers usually take credit card information or even direct money from seniors on the pretext of donating to a charity and local business. Make it a thumb rule to inform your elders to not buy or donate anything to an unfamiliar company.
Donating money or giving money to local children who are fundraising for schools or selling Girl Scout cookies is fine but never donate to unfamiliar sources. Especially if it requires you to fill out forms with personal information and credit card details. A good way to confirm the person’s credibility is by asking for the salesperson’s name, telephone number, business identity, and business license number. Only after they have reviewed all this information, should they consider making a donation or buying anything.
Identity theft of seniors is a huge business amongst scammers. To protect seniors or parents, buy them a paper shredder. Ask them to shred receipts or any documents they don’t need that contain sensitive information like their credit card number. Always ask them to monitor their credit card and bank statements and to avoid giving personal information over calls. Scammers usually call pretending to be from the bank or credit card companies and ask for personal details to abuse seniors.
There have been many cases where benefits checks have been stolen from the mailbox. That’s why it is always best to get direct deposits of benefits checks instead of getting them delivered to your mailbox. This ensures their money is protected and goes directly into their accounts. Scammers and even loved ones have been known to steal to abuse seniors by stealing benefits checks even from senior homes.
Medicare dollars misuse is one of the biggest financial abuse when it comes to seniors. Usually, scammers pretend to be salespeople and try to sell seniors services claiming it will be beneficial for them and will be paid for by Medicare. Then they will bill them for services that are never delivered or sell them devices or services that are not needed. It is very important to be wary of salespersons calling and asking for details. Also, ask your seniors or you can monitor their Medicare statements timely to make sure everything is correct and they have received the services they are being billed for.
A thumb rule is to never share Medicare numbers, credit card details, social security numbers, and banking details with anyone else. If you notice any suspicious activity on their Medicare statements, then you can report it at 1-800-MEDICARE.
If you care for an elder or your parents, then here are some signs that can indicate if they are victims of financial abuse:
If you notice any senior or even your parents being financially abused, then there are Adult Protective Services (APS) programs in every state where you can report the matter. They are responsible for investigating any type of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. It is important to protect our seniors and take care of them when needed. So, if you notice they need your help, always reach out and it is best to check on your seniors every once in a while.