Elder abuse is a serious problem in the United States. According to the Administration for Community Living (ACL), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as many as 1 in 10 older Americans are abused or neglected each year, and only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of authorities.(1)
To promote awareness of elder abuse, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is commemorated worldwide every year on June 15.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day organizers offer advice for recognizing and dealing with a particularly significant problem – financial exploitation. The U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging estimates that older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year to financial schemes and scams.(2)
While strangers often perpetrate this form of abuse, sadly, friends and family are even more likely to take advantage of seniors. In fact, it’s estimated that in almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member.(3)
Common warning signs and things to watch out for
- Unauthorized withdrawals from bank accounts or credit card charges
- Changes to a will, trust, mortgage or deed done without the senior’s knowledge
- Pressure from family members about getting control of the senior’s finances, including threats to confine the senior in a nursing home unless control is relinquished
According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA)(5) , seniors can also frequently fall prey to phone scams. Among the most common are Internal Revenue Service (IRS) impersonators who accuse victims of owing back taxes and penalties; they then threaten the senior if immediate payment is not made in some form.
Other scams include:
- Convincing victims by phone that they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes and asking them to send money to cover processing fees and taxes.
- Offering to do home or utility repairs and stealing the victim’s belongings while inside the home.
- Fabricating a charitable or family-related call for money. The senior might be asked to send money after a devastating hurricane, for example, or led to believe that a family member is in danger unless money is sent.(4)
NAPSA says that seniors can also be pressured into investments, reverse mortgages and other loans or pyramid schemes. False emails about bank accounts and “phishing” schemes that encourage them to divulge private personal data are also common criminal complaints.
Sadly, unscrupulous family members can use a Power of Attorney or other legal avenue to steal money, take advantage of access to accounts, and perpetrate fraud against seniors.(6)
In the bail bonds industry, we see these types of financial scams often. The perpetrator will call a senior and tell them they have their child or grandchild in custody and need payment information immediately to post bail. Often panicked, the senior offers up their credit card or sends cash through an app (which A 2nd Chance never uses), without asking for any details, and the scam is complete. It’s important to verify the business is legitimate and the caller indeed works for the business they say they represent before any money is sent.
Protecting against fraud and abuse
To avoid potential abuse, seniors should(7):
- Reduce telemarketing calls by getting on the National Do Not Call Registry. They can visit www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222 to register a phone number.
- Not provide personal information (e.g. Social Security number, credit card) over the phone unless they placed the call and trust the person with whom they’re speaking.
- Only sign any documents that they completely understand and consult an attorney or trusted family member if needed.
- Destroy (tear up or shred) sensitive documents such as credit receipts, bank statements, and financial records before disposing of them.
- Take their time and not be pressured into making immediate decisions, including those about large purchases or investments. Beware of opportunities that seem “too good to be true.”
To learn more about elder abuse, its prevention, and other helpful resources, please visit https://eldermistreatment.usc.edu/weaad-home.