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Financial Wellness

Elder Financial Abuse—Know the Facts

According to the National Council on Aging, up to five million older Americans are the victim of financial exploitation and fraud each year, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion. Financial fraud and exploitation of seniors and other vulnerable adults can be perpetrated by people they know, such as caretakers and family members, or perfect strangers. But how do you know if you or a loved one is a victim of this crime?

Warning Signs 

  • Abrupt changes to Powers of Attorney and other estate planning documents 
  • Unfamiliar person or relatives accompanying the senior to withdraw money
  • Withdrawals from friends and family or previously enjoyed activities
  • New individual in seniors life who 
  • Changes in patterns of financial behavior including 
    • Sudden reluctance to discuss financial matters
    • Unpaid bills, despite having adequate money, or unexplained purchases 
    • Unexplained or excessive withdrawals
    • Sudden transfers to other financial institutions
    • New loans, mortgages or credit cards
  • They are unable or unwilling to take care of themselves

Why seniors are targeted
Seniors control the majority of the wealth in the United States which makes them attractive to criminals (known and unknown). While diminished capacity due to illness definitely plays a role, physical decline and dependency on others are also risk factors for elder financial exploitation. Changes in life events, like the loss of a spouse or become isolated due to physical limitations also may make a senior more vulnerable to abuse. 

"Financial predators use a playbook to get us into a heightened emotional state," said Kathy Stokes, AARP director of fraud prevention programs. "They know it's hard to access our logical thinking when we are panicked, excited or scared. But knowing about specific scams makes it far less likely that we will engage with them." 

Top scams
While not exhaustive, below is a list of common scams which are currently being seen by law enforcement agencies. The full list can be found on AARP's website.

  1. Cryptocurrency-romance scam
    Crooks combine crypto scams with old-fashioned romance scams, posing as internet love interests so they can cajole their targets into downloading an app and investing in fake crypto accounts. "They claim that they're even putting some of their own money into your fund," explains former Federal Trade Commission official Steve Baker, who publishes the Baker Fraud Report. While the app displays data that seems to show your wealth growing, criminals are just taking your money.

    How to stay safe: Carefully scrutinize any investment opportunity, even if you think you're a sophisticated investor.
  2. Check washing scam
    Though other payment modes are replacing them, checks are still used often enough for scammers to exploit. One trick is "check washing," in which crooks steal checks from mailboxes and bathe them in household chemicals to erase the original name and dollar amount, leaving blank spaces they can fill in. It's possible to convert a $25 check to one for thousands of dollars

    How to stay safe: The U.S. Postal Inspection Service recommends depositing your outgoing mail in blue collection boxes before the day's last pickup, so it doesn't sit for as long. At home, avoid leaving mail in your own mailbox overnight, and have your mail held by the post office or picked up by a friend or neighbor if you're going to be away.
  3. Credit Union or Bank impersonator racket
    Let's say you've set up your bank or credit card online accounts so you can access them only with a live code sent from the institution. And let's say a criminal has your bank or credit card username and password login and wants to steal from you. What would he or she do? In this increasingly common fraud, they call you, claiming to be from your financial institution and warning about a problem with your account. The caller tells you they're emailing or texting you a "onetime passcode" for logging in and asks you to read it back to them for verification. In reality, the scammer's login attempt triggered your financial institution to send you the passcode. Handing it over gives criminals full access to your account.

    How to stay safe: Never give your onetime passcode to anyone who calls you. Hang up, find your institution's phone number on a bank statement or on your credit card, and call. Ask if there really is a problem and report the con to the bank's fraud department.
  4. Payday loan scam
    Criminals exploit the inflation squeezing workers by offering fake payday loans that they claim will help people settle their bills. Loan applicants are told they'll need to prepay a fee. The money goes into the crooks' pockets, and the applicant gets nothing.

    How to stay safe: Be wary of anyone who asks you to pay any sort of loan fee with a gift card or some other non-traceable form of payment.
  5. Crypto refund swindles
    Beware if you've lost money in a cryptocurrency scam: Criminals set up fake "get your crypto cash back" websites, including one that looks like it's from the U.S. Department of State. After luring targets, they contact those who respond by phone, email or social media and ask for personal ID information, including account numbers and passwords, plus an advance fee for their services payable by gift card, cryptocurrency or wire transfer. You get nothing, warns the FTC.

    How to stay safe: Be wary of anyone who asks you to pay any sort of loan fee with a gift card or some other non-traceable form of payment.


World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD)
June 15th, 2023

WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations and communities to bring attention to the issue of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website for new and updated tools designed to help generate awareness about elder abuse.


If you suspect a scam involving you or a loved one, take these steps right away:

  1. Contact your local law enforcement agency, and local adult protective services agency.
  2. Contact Tower's Member Service Center at 866-56-TOWER.
  3. Submit a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Resources: National Center on Elder Abuse, AARP®