It’s easy to understand why elderly individuals are attractive targets for financial abuse. They may have significant assets or equity in their homes and usually have a regular source of income such as Social Security or a pension. They also may be especially vulnerable due to isolation, cognitive decline, physical disability, or other health problems. In fact, nearly one out of every five Americans over the age of 65 has fallen victim to elder financial abuse.¹
That’s why it’s important to raise awareness of the red flags surrounding this crime by talking with elderly loved ones and helping them understand they are not alone in dealing with financial abuse.
Watch out for these common stranger scams
Some financial scams are easy to identify, but many are not quite so easy to spot. Here are a few of the most common scams strangers may use to trick elderly individuals into giving up money, personal information, or property.
Password fraud / identity theft — Technology-savvy fraudsters set up fake websites for the purpose of obtaining personal information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, or a variety of personal passwords – including those tied to personal bank accounts, credit and debit cards, and loan applications – then use that information for criminal purposes.
Government scams (IRS / Medicare) — Scammers pose as government officials requiring their victims to wire cash or use prepaid debit or gift cards to pay a bogus tax bill. Or they may provide sham Medicare services at makeshift mobile clinics in order to bill the insurance and pocket the money.
Granny scam — Fraudsters play to the emotions of grandparents by identifying themselves as grandchildren calling or emailing about an emergency situation. They may say, “I’ve been arrested in and need money wired quickly” or “I need cash cards for bail.”
Prize and sweepstakes fraud — Under the guise of a telemarketing call to notify the winner of a lottery or sweepstakes, the victim is told he or she must pay taxes on the jackpot via mail or wire before claiming the prize.
Sweetheart fraud —With the false promises of love and companionship, elders are conned into trusting a new “friend” that they meet in person or through socal media. The romantic partner then swindles them out of money and/or property before disappearing.
When the abusers are known
According to the 2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey, most older investors (68%) believe that a stranger would be the most likely perpetrator of financial exploitation against them. But the reality is very different – 66% of elder financial crimes are committed by family members, friends, or trusted persons.²
One typical type of financial abuse by trusted individuals includes using ATM cards and stealing checks to withdraw monies from victims’ accounts. Another type involves in-home care providers charging for services they did not provide, keeping change from errands, paying bills that don’t belong to the vulnerable adult, asking the vulnerable adult to sign falsified time sheets, spending their work time on the phone, and not doing what they are paid to do.
Where to find help
For more information on what to do if you, loved ones, and others you suspect are victims of an elder financial abuse crime go to https://www.wellsfargo.com/privacysecurity/fraud/bank-scams/.
¹Investor Protection Trust (IPT) elder Fraud Survey, 2016.
²Jewish Council for the Aging, National Center for Elder Abuse. Paley Rothman article, “Who Commits Elder Financial Abuse and Why Isn’t It Reported?” 2016.
This article was written by/for Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Benjamin J. Chuckrow Senior Vice President – Investment Officer, Branch Manager in Albany NY 518-464-2714
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