Financial elder abuse occurs when someone takes advantage of an elderly person for ﬁnancial gain. Bad actors could be anyone, even family members, lawyers or caretakers. Elderly people who are isolated or dependent on others are especially vulnerable. Although seniors are the ones targeted, everyone can help protect them by knowing what to look out for.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).
A suspicious interaction or completely innocent?
Picture a senior citizen making a transaction with the help of a companion at the bank. Rather than taking out their debit card or ﬁlling out a withdrawal form for themselves, the other person seems to be doing everything for them. This scenario could be completely innocent. After all, the senior may appreciate the help. However, it could be a case of ﬁnancial elder abuse.
For example, if stealing money was the goal, the “helper” might try to subtly keep the senior from knowing the total withdrawal amount or seeing their remaining balance. For this reason, it’s important for everyone to pay close attention to the behaviors and actions of those assisting the elderly.
Here are a few warning signs to be mindful of, along with actions seniors and others can take to reduce risk:
- New, sudden relationships
- Detect: Often, people that ﬁnancially exploit seniors ﬁrst build a trusting relationship with them, taking advantage of the senior’s vulnerability in their desire for companionship. Some romantic relationships, especially ones begun over the internet, can also be cause for concern.
- Protect: Seniors should be wary of any attempts to access their ﬁnancial information, especially from newer friends, aids or companions. When seeking professional paid assistance, seniors and their loved ones should feel empowered ask about qualiﬁcations, screening process and anything else they’d like to know.
- Act: For seniors, if a new relationship feels at all questionable, reaching out to a trusted person for help right away can save a lot of trouble down the road. For others, checking in on the seniors in their lives and helping them stay connected to their community can make a big diﬀerence by reducing feelings of isolation that can increase vulnerability.
- “Winning” a sweepstakes or lottery by email or phone call
- Detect: Seniors tend to be the most vulnerable to these types of scams. Congratulatory phone calls and emails, pop-up messages and ads can all be used to lure an unsuspecting adult into giving personal information.
- Protect: Seniors should beware of any communications that ask for personal information. It may also be helpful to add themselves to the National Do Not Call Registry by calling 1-888-382-1222, block unwanted calls, set up security software, and unsubscribe from unfamiliar marketing emails.
- Act: The idea of “winning” can be intoxicating and even the sharpest people can sometimes fall for scams. For seniors, if something seems too good to be true, it’s a good idea to ask someone they trust for help assessing the situation. For others, simply letting the seniors in their lives know that they are always available to provide this type of assistance can be of great value.
- Unusual ﬁnancial activity
- Detect: Monitoring ﬁnancial activity is extremely important. Common warning signs include unpaid bills, missing checkbooks, suspicious signatures, missing valuables and adding authorized users to ﬁnancial accounts.
- Protect: It’s important for seniors not to give any single person total control over their ﬁnances. Instead, they should consider assigning a diﬀerent person for each signiﬁcant ﬁnancial aspect. For example, one person keeps track of their bills, another handles their medical expenses, another supervises their investments, etc. Seniors and those in their trusted ﬁnancial network should look out for any attempts to access ﬁnancial information from anyone outside of the group (or attempts to increase access among their trusted group members). It’s also a good idea for seniors to have income directly deposited (vs. receiving paper checks), shred unneeded ﬁnancial documents, and keep an inventory of valuables.
- Act: If seniors notice unusual ﬁnancial activity related to their accounts, they should contact their financial institution and call someone they trust for help right away. If they don’t have someone to call, they should call the police. For others, it is important to explain anything unusual they may have noticed directly to the senior right away. Then, oﬀer help.
- Legal changes
- Detect: Sudden changes in an elderly person’s will, estate plan, power of attorney or ﬁnancial authority can sometimes indicate ﬁnancial abuse.
- Protect: Having an estate plan, including power of attorney, a will, and a healthcare directive can be part of a strong defense. Ideally, one should take care of these items well before they need assistance. This way, a clear plan is in place and any unexpected changes will be more noticeable.
- Act: As above, if a trusted party notices an unexpected change, it is important to discuss it directly with the senior right away. Then, oﬀer help.
If you see something, say something!
The signs of ﬁnancial elder abuse may not be obvious, even to those targeted. That’s why it’s important to pay attention. Anyone can report suspicious activity surrounding an elderly person’s ﬁnancial care to the following groups:
- Financial Institutions, especially if the senior is suddenly going through a ﬁnancial struggle or anyone is making ﬁnancial decisions on their behalf. Go to chase.com/FinancialAbuse to learn more.
- Adult Protective Services. Research your local office and give them a call.
- Law Enforcement. Financial exploitation is a crime!
- An Ombudsman. Care facilities often have liaisons between facilities and residents, or you can research a local one online.
- National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311)