Financial abuse of the elderly can be perpetrated by people they know, such as caretakers and family members, or perfect strangers. It can happen in many different ways. But how do you know if you or a loved one is a victim of this crime?
- Sudden changes in banking account, money practices or financial documents.
- Unexplained money withdrawals or transfers of assets.
- Additional names included on accounts or signature cards.
- Unfamiliar person or relatives accompanying the senior to withdraw a large sum of money.
- Unpaid bills, despite having adequate money, or unexplained purchases.
- They have a new friend, or they are withdrawing from friends/family or previously enjoyed activities.
- They are unable or unwilling to take care of themselves.
- They look to others to borrow money.
- They are hiding something, like purchases or receipts.
Why Seniors are a Target
Scammers are very resourceful, and seniors are often vulnerable and easy targets for financial abuse. Scammers see seniors as a supply of wealth that includes homes, property, savings and other assets. They may physically stalk older adults, watching them do yardwork or get their mail each day. They make notes of addresses, then return and try to sell the seniors unnecessary home repair services. Other reasons seniors are often a target:
- Availability and isolation. Retired and less mobile individuals may be at home during the day for phone calls and visits, and often live alone or have limited interaction with family.
- Loneliness and sickness. Lonely seniors may welcome a cold caller, or someone who tries to build a new friendship with them. Seniors also often have chronic health issues that make them more vulnerable to yard work or home repair scams.
Top Senior Scams
Financial exploitation takes many forms, including but not limited to telemarketing fraud, home repair scams, stock and securities scams, among others.
- Health Care Fraud. Scammers obtain insurance information from seniors with the false promise of medical supplies or medication, and then assume their identity. They are then billed for prescriptions and services they didn’t use.
- Identity Theft. Seniors receive a phone call asking to verify their account number by giving the scammer the last four digits of their Social Security number. The scammer can then match it with the phone number, last place of employment, etc. and use it to create a new identity or to take out a loan or credit card in the senior’s name.
- Sweepstakes. The senior receives a fraudulent check, asking them to cash the check and keep most of the funds, and send back a certain amount for “processing.” The victim cashes the check, it bounces, and the senior is liable.
- Grandparent/Emergency Scam. A senior receives an urgent call or e-mail from someone who claims to be a friend, relative, or grandchild asking for money. The caller claims there’s an emergency and asks the senior to send money immediately, often via Western Union or MoneyGram which can be picked up quickly.
- Tech Support Scam. One popular ruse is the tech support scam. Bad actors call and pretend to help with computer issues, claiming to be from tech companies such as Microsoft. People age 60 and older are about five times more likely to report losing money to such fraudsters. Such scams are now considered among the fastest growing internet-based frauds, according to the FBI. Learn more about tech support scams, what to do if you have been scammed, and how to report such scams.
More information about scams can be found here.
How Scammers Get Information
Scammers can get names from marketing lists, telephone listings, obituaries and social networking sites. Sometimes they hack into e-mail and send messages to all contacts on the senior’s contact list.
Sometimes, scammers get the information from the unknowing senior. They may call unexpectedly—maybe in the middle of the night when the victim might be caught off guard—and say something like “Hi Grandma,” hoping the senior will provide some personal information which can be used against her later.
If you suspect a scam involving you or a loved one, take these steps right away:
- Contact Tower’s Member Service Center at 301-497-7000 or 866-56-TOWER.
- Contact your local police or sheriff’s office, and local adult protective services agency.
Submit a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.