It’s an unfortunate reality that older adults are too often attractive targets for financial exploitation because they tend to possess more wealth than other potential victims. According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, seniors lose on average $2.9 billion every year from financial exploitation. In many instances, victims have spent a lifetime accumulating their wealth through hard work and conscientious saving.
At Lakeland Bank, we take a proactive approach to detect and prevent financial fraud against older customers through routine employee training and the use of technology to spot red flags and report suspicious activity to authorities. Additionally, we sponsor the Senior Housing Crime Prevention Foundation. Their programs protect and educate residents and staff at local senior housing facilities on how to prevent elder financial abuse.
Elder financial abuse is a serious issue and will only continue to increase, but there are ways we can help our senior citizen community from becoming a victim of this type of crime. Let’s get started with learning about the most common scams targeting seniors.
Today, seniors who are looking for love or a new friend can turn to online services and social media to find relationships. However, sometimes the people they connect with are scammers who are just looking to trick lonely elderly individuals. In most cases, scammers quickly become close to the elderly person and then try to get the victim to send money to help with an emergency such as an expensive car repair or a plane ticket to come meet in person. Tip: Don’t send money to someone you met online and haven’t met in person!
Social Security Spoofing Scams
Robocall scammers use spoofing to falsify the caller ID that appears on the phone when they attempt to steal Social Security numbers from elderly people. The scammers spoof a Social Security Administration (SSA) phone number so you’ll believe it’s the agency calling. The caller will claim your social security number has been compromised or suspended. They ask the victim to confirm their number for security reasons and to avoid the risk of having their number revoked. Tip: SSA employees will never threaten you to obtain personal information.
In this scheme, a scammer will call the elderly person claiming to be their grandchild. The con artist will create a sense of urgency and fear and say they need money right away for a medical emergency, or to clear up an issue with the law. Of course, the grandparent doesn’t want their loved one to be in trouble so they are often willing to give them whatever they need, even money. Tip: If you receive this type of call, avoid acting immediately! Hang up and use the contact information you have to reach out to the loved one directly to ask questions and verify the story.
Home Repair Scams
Scammers scour neighborhoods with a high population of older residents, knock on the door and offer to fix a problem with your home such as a roof that looks like it needs a repair or a driveway that should be repaved. Working in teams, these criminals will offer to do the work right away for a great price. They will pressure the victim to make a quick decision, but don’t fall for it! Instead, say you are not interested and then contact a reputable repair company that you trust to come to your house to determine if repairs are actually needed. Tip: Scammers often read the public obituaries so they can target recent widows and widowers.
Medicare and Healthcare Scams
It’s difficult to imagine someone would prey on those in need of medical assistance, but, Medicare fraud is one of the most common healthcare scams. Criminals pose as Medicare or medical supply representatives to obtain personal information or provide bogus services and then use the information to bill Medicare or assume a stolen identity to perpetrate fraud. And, the pandemic made the problem worse as fraudsters capitalized on the crisis to take advantage of elderly individuals by pretending to assist with COVID-19 related services, but used the chance for fraudulent activity. Tip: Scammers are highly-skilled professionals who know how to get the information they need to commit financial crimes.
Con artists send phony emails, calls, or texts to steal a victim’s personal information. In one common phishing scam, an elderly person will receive an email that appears to be from their bank or investment account that asks them to update their information. This is really just a ploy to get the person to expose their personal information so fraudsters can steal their money or identity. These bogus messages are designed to mimic company logos and may even use real names of people who work for the company. The goal is to trick consumers into clicking on links embedded in the message that download malware (malicious software) on their computer which divulges personal information to fraudsters. Tip: If you have any doubt about the authenticity of a message, don’t respond or click on any links!
Telemarketing and Phone Scams
Seniors schooled in etiquette may frown upon “hanging up the phone” or simply saying “no” to unsolicited calls, but it can leave the door open for criminals to pose as company representatives. Three notable examples include:
- The pigeon drop where con artists pretend to share found money in exchange for a “good faith” payment drawn from the contacted person’s bank account.
- The fake accident ploy where con artists create a false narrative that a loved one has been injured in an accident and needs money for medical expenses.
- Charity scams where con artists solicit funds on behalf of a charity for which they are not affiliated with or is not legit.
Scams are always changing. The most commons ones this year will be replaced by new and creative schemes next year. Visit The Federal Trade Commission Scam Alert page to stay up-to-date with information about the ever-changing ways that scam artists target consumers.
How to Spot Elder Financial Abuse
The best way to spot financial abuse is to look for changes in the elder person’s activities and financial situation, such as:
- Sudden changes to a will or power of attorney – your parent names a caretaker or new friend as the sole beneficiary of their estate.
- Financial transactions that the person could not have performed – you notice ATM withdrawals from your mother’s bank account, but she has been homebound for months.
- Unpaid bills or termination of service notices – an elderly neighbor tells you he’s worried about his electric being turned off and is confused about how much money he has – a caregiver may not be paying his bills and stealing his money.
- Suspicious or unusual spending – you help manage your aunt’s finances and see purchases for a new computer, smartwatch and even restaurant charges at places she would never go to.
How to Protect Seniors from Falling Victim
- Share information with older adults about the different types of scams so they are aware of how criminals may try to target them. And explain that scammers are professionals at what they do and experts at knowing how to take advantage of the people they target.
- Recommend they sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry – this can help prevent telemarketer calls and reduce the chance they give personal information to a fraudster.
- Remind them that a good rule of thumb is to never share personal or financial information with anyone who unexpectedly contacts them. And that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is and they should immediately stop communicating with the person who contacted them.
- Check in regularly! Calling or visiting an older friend or relative is a good way to know their normal activities and can help you spot red flags that may indicate something is wrong.
Serve as a trusted contact to help them interview and hire contractors, landscapers or caregivers. And help with monitoring their bills, bank accounts and other important financial matters. Make it clear that your goal is to protect them from being scammed!
If you are concerned that you or someone you know someone who may be a victim of elder abuse, don’t let it go unreported. Contact the following helpful resources:
- Adult Protective Service (APS)
- Local Police Department
- AARP or call their free helpline if you or a loved one suspect a scam at 877-908-3360
- Your Financial Institution
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
Financial abuse can be a devastating form of elder abuse. As a community bank, we are here to help you spot potential scams and take the appropriate measures to protect your account if you suspect you have been a victim of financial fraud. Visit the Lakeland Bank Identity Theft Center for more tips and tricks to keep your personal information protected, read our educational blogs on the topic of Privacy & Cybersecurity or contact us at 866-224-1379.