Protecting Your Loved Ones from Elder Fraud
A 2020 analysis conducted by tech services provider Comparitech found that about 7.8 million cases of elder fraud occur in the United States each year, resulting in more than $140 billion in losses. In reality, those numbers are likely higher, as reporting from Adult Protective Services varies from state to state.
Many people assume the majority of elder fraud is committed by seasoned criminals or other bad actors, but that isn’t necessarily true. According to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 36% of cases, a relative or trusted fiduciary is to blame.
Making things even more challenging is the fact that many seniors fail to report fraud in the first place, due to shame or fear it might indicate something negative about their ability to manage affairs.
If you’re concerned about a loved one falling victim to elder fraud, don’t wait to take action. By familiarizing yourself with common scams, taking preventive measures, and educating your senior, it’s possible to significantly lower the risk of financial malfeasance.
What are some common elder fraud schemes?
Elder fraud schemes evolve with the times, but there are several that pop up over and over again. Some of the most common include:
Catfishing and romance scams. Someone creates a fake profile on a social media or dating platform to target lonely individuals seeking companionship. As the relationship develops and trust builds, they’re able to access financial or personal information like bank accounts or a social security number.
The fake authority figure scam. These scams involve phone calls, voice mails, or letters from supposedly legitimate organizations like the IRS. Often, they threaten jail time or other penalties unless a victim agrees to settle an imaginary debt.
The loved one in need scam. A crook poses as a loved one or acquaintance stranded overseas. The victim is then asked to send a certain amount of money to cover basic necessities like airfare, food, or shelter. When targeting seniors, scammers tend to pose as the victim’s children or grandchildren.
The computer repair scam. This scam involves a supposedly legitimate company reaching out to a senior about a virus or malware. The scammer offers to take care of the problem and protect their device by asking for a fee upfront.
The false contractor scam. A scammer offers to do yard or construction work. After receiving a cash or check deposit, they disappear with the money never to be seen again.
What can I do to protect my loved one from elder fraud?
There are several preventive measures you can take to protect a loved one from elder fraud, including:
Education. One of the easiest ways to prevent elder fraud is to educate your senior about the risks at hand. Lynell Ross, a psychology-trained health and wellness coach who has years of experience working with seniors, recommends having an open and honest conversation, “Talk to your friend or loved one about the types of scams that are possible threats,” she said. “Instruct them to never give out personal information over the phone, email, or by text to anyone. Legitimate businesses will not call asking for social security numbers or credit card information.”
Technology management. If your senior is tech-savvy and regularly uses the internet to communicate, bank, or stream media, ask if you can install antivirus software on their computer. You might also want to install ad-blocking software to prevent malicious pop-ups from infiltrating their devices with malware or ransomware.
“Find out how responsible or capable your loved one is of remembering passwords and protecting their own information,” Ross adds. “You or someone you trust can help them set up online accounts and write down their passwords. Store this information and other related documents in a folder that’s easy to access.”
Add their number to the “Do Not Call” list. The National “Do Not Call” Registry, developed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), makes it easy to opt out of telemarketing calls. Ask your senior if you can add their number to the list. If they continue to receive unwanted calls more than 31 days after signing up, they can file an official report with the FTC.
Encourage them to never share personal information over the phone. Government entities like the IRS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Social Security Administration rarely make calls to private citizens. When they do, they don’t ask for money or private personal information.
Remind your loved one that if they didn’t initiate the call, it’s likely a scam. Even if a call is legitimate, it’s better to collect the caller’s information and do some research first before reconnecting.
Keep an eye on their credit. One of the easiest ways to spot identity theft is with regular credit checks. You can request free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Transunion by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
Maintain open lines of communication. It’s important to respect your senior’s independence, but try to stay in touch. Brandon Ayers, an elder law attorney at Vanek, Larson, & Kolb, LLC in St. Charles, Illinois, says to “Check in on your loved one frequently. Make sure they have what they need and the help that they want.” He adds, “do small things to improve their lives and be there when they need you. Sometimes getting legal documentation together is pretty cheap insurance for both you and your loved one.”
What should I do if my loved one is a victim of elder fraud?
“If you suspect a friend, neighbor, or loved one is being defrauded, taken advantage of, or abused in any way, call for help immediately,” said Ross.
If the threat is immediate, contact the local police by dialing 911.
If you live away from your loved one, contact Adult Protective Services in their county. They will send someone out to investigate the fraud or abuse and can recommend additional services.
Report the fraud to the National Elder Fraud Hotline.
Elder fraud is a common and frightening problem, but it’s possible to protect those in your care. By educating yourself and taking preventive measures, you can achieve peace of mind and financial security.
Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.