Financial fraud is one of the fastest growing forms of elder abuse. Financial elder abuse is when someone illegally or improperly uses a vulnerable senior’s money or other property. Many states now have laws that make elder financial abuse a crime and provide ways to help the senior and punish the scammer.
Elder financial abuse is tough to fight because it often goes unreported. Many elder victims are often too confused, fearful or embarrassed by the crime to report it. A recent study by Consumers Digest estimated that there are five million cases of this financial abuse in the United States each year, but law enforcement only learn about one in twenty-five cases.
You can protect yourself and your loved ones from financial elder abuse by familiarizing yourself with the most common scams and learning what to do if you suspect foul play.
Scammers target elders that they perceive to be vulnerable. It is often those who are isolated, lonely, physically or mentally disabled, unfamiliar with handling their own finances, or have recently lost a spouse.
The scam artists will pose as trustworthy helpers. They could be strangers such as telemarketers, those who have relationships with the targeted victim’s family, or even doctors, lawyers, accountants or caregivers.
Some common financial scams that are used against elders range from outright theft of money or property to forging signatures on legal documents.
You should keep an eye out for these common scams.
· Telemarketing or mail fraud: Scammers use the phone to conduct investment or credit card fraud, lottery scams and even identity theft. Scammers will also use the phone to sell seniors goods that either never arrive or are junk.
· Charging excessive amounts of money: Scammers first convince seniors that they need some goods or services then drastically overcharge them. They hide the high cost in schemes involving interest on installment payments. This tactic is used for products that many elders might find essential such as hearing aids and safety alert devices.
· Getting unauthorized access to funds: In this case, scammers will woo older people by convincing them love and care is their motive for being included on bank accounts or property deeds.
· Selling phony items: Scammers try to sell things such as new color televisions and other products at a bargain price.
· Using fraudulent legal documents: They will conceal their actions in legal authority, by acquiring power of attorney or other legal documents giving them access to a senior’s property.
· Faking injury or peril: A scammer claims to be a relative or friend that is in serious injury or in jail. They convince the senior to wire money for bail or medical treatment.
These are just a few of the many scams that are out there targeting seniors. If you suspect financial abuse of any kind or have a feeling that something is not right, report it. There are many individuals and groups that are dedicated to investigating suspected financial abuse. You can notify the following if you suspect financial abuse:
· Bank Personnel: Depending on the type and extent of financial abuse involved, give them a heads up of who commonly handles your elder loved one’s account(s) so that if they notice suspicious activity they can report it and let you know.
· Senior Services Groups: These groups offer services from counseling to legal assistance. They can help prevent elder financial abuse and offer assistance to the victims. Call 800-677-1116 to find a local group in your area.
· Adult Protective Services: A government affiliated agency that investigates reports of elder financial abuse and offers assistance to the victims.
· Law enforcement: Local law enforcement will intervene when there is strong evidence that a crime is being committed.
Be aware and make sure to always report any cases or suspected cases of financial abuse so that you or your loved ones don’t become victimized.