In part one of this series, we discussed and illustrated the types of scams that to which our elder citizens can be vulnerable. Here, we discuss preventative and palliative measures.
Avoid Becoming a Victim
The best course of action is to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. We all think we’re smarter than the scammers, but that belief can make us even more vulnerable. It’s a false sense of security. Your elder loved one must acknowledge that they can be at risk.
Education and awareness are the primary defenses against victimization. Older adults should learn about types of scams happening today and the red flags that signal fraud. Community educational events are offered at senior centers, religious organizations, and senior communities.
Common red flags or warning signs of a scam:
- A caller claims there is a warrant for your arrest unless you submit immediate payment.
- A telemarketer will not take no for an answer.
- You are strongly discouraged from checking up on the situation independently, with excuses why checking is not necessary.
- You are asked to wire money someplace you don’t recognize, or a country other than where the caller is located (for example, the grandson says he is in Mexico, but you are asked to wire money to Jamaica)
- You are asked to submit payment using gift cards.
- You are told you must send money for taxes or bank fees in order to collect your “winnings.”
- You receive a check in the mail for no reason, or you receive a check for a lot more than you were expecting.
- You are asked to give out personal identification information such as social security number, account numbers, credit card numbers, or birth date.
Emotions Get in the Way
The solution is simple – the potential victim should choose not to engage with the scammer, ignore the letter, or hang up the phone. It’s not so simple to do. Strong feelings of excitement over a large lottery win, fear over an imminent arrest, or panic over a beloved grandchild can interfere with logical thinking, and we get wrapped up in the story. The next thing we know, we become a victim.
Seniors tend to be at higher risk. Loneliness can compel them to stay on the phone so that they can talk with someone. Good manners might stop them from hanging up the phone on the scammer, and the only way to respond politely is to give them what they want.
If a loved one becomes a victim, you need to act quickly to stop further losses. Many times, scammers call back with new “problems” that require more money to resolve. If they have personal account information, the scammers will use it quickly and for as long as they can. They must be stopped to prevent more loss.
The process starts by detecting that money has been lost to a scam. If the senior is unable to monitor his or her bank accounts and credit card bills closely, a family member, a geriatric care manager, or a professional money manager can assist. Periodically reviewing the older loved one’s credit report is another way to find unexpected financial transactions that could be fraud.
Here are some warning signs:
- Unusual activity in an older person’s bank accounts, including large, frequent or unexplained withdrawals.
- ATM withdrawals by an older person who has never used a debit or ATM card.
- Changing from a basic account to one that offers more complicated services the customer does not fully understand or need.
- Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts the customer cannot explain.
- New “best friends” accompanying an older person to the bank.
- Sudden non-sufficient fund activity or unpaid bills.
- Closing CDs or accounts without regard to penalties.
- Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money.
- Suspicious signatures on checks, or outright forgery.
- Confusion, fear, or lack of awareness on the part of an older customer.
- Refusal to make eye contact, shame, or reluctance to talk about the problem.
- Checks written as “loans” or “gifts.”
- Bank statements that no longer go to the customer’s home.
- New powers of attorney the older person does not understand.
- A caretaker, relative or friend who suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of an older person without proper documentation.
- Altered wills and trusts.
- Property loss.
Ideally, professionals at financial institutions should be vigilant for these situations among their clients, but it doesn’t always happen. It is unwise to rely solely on bank tellers or other financial services professionals to detect financial abuse of an older adult.
If there are no family members nearby who are involved with the senior’s daily life, it is much harder to detect a scam or fraud. A local, trustworthy contact that regularly sees the older loved one is extremely helpful to identify red flags. It could be a close friend, clergy at a place of worship, a trusted neighbor, or a professional care coordinator.
If a loved one has become a victim of a scam, take these steps immediately:
- Contact the bank and credit card company
- Cancel any debit or credit cards linked to the stolen account
- Reset any compromised personal identification number(s).
Adult Protective Services may need to be involved. In Kansas, this is part of the Kansas Department for Children and Families. Anyone can report suspicion of abuse. The hotline number is 1-800-922-5330.
Reporting the Crime
If a senior is a victim of financial abuse or a scam, it’s important to report the crime. Victimization this way is embarrassing, and the victim may be too ashamed to speak up. Yet reporting the crime can prevent others from loss and help law enforcement stop the scammers.
The reality is that if an older loved one has been a victim of a fraud or scam, the money is most likely gone. Scammers work very hard to get the victim’s money in a manner that cannot be traced. They use anonymous phone numbers to hide their identities, as depicted in June’s story. They are nearly impossible to track them down after the scam.
If you are unsure how to report, start with the local police, who can direct the proper reporting and follow up. Many communities, including Johnson County, KS, have local district attorney offices with fraud and identity theft divisions. State level attorneys general offices also accept reports of scam and fraud.
At the national level, complaints can be reported online at
Federal Trade Commission FTC Complaint Assistant (https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/)
The National Fraud Information Center (www.fraud.org)
Where to Find Peace of Mind
We can never protect our loved ones from everything that could ever happen to them, as much as we want to. Resources and community partners are available that can improve a loved one’s safety and security, and provide peace of mind to concerned family members. It never hurts to build a trustworthy community who supports your aging loved one. Building such a community takes intention and effort, but it provides so much value.
Geriatric care managers (also known as Aging Life Care Professionals™) and daily money managers are particularly valuable. They visit clients often, educate them about best practices to avoid scams and fraud, and closely monitor for the signs that their clients are being scammed. Even if an older loved one does not need extensive hands-on care, families can gain peace of mind to help avoid difficulties and heartache from scams.
American Association of Retired Persons. AARP Foundation ElderWatch: Refuse Fraud. http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/income/elderwatch/refuse-fraud/ (1/17/17)
American Association of Retired Persons. AARP Foundation ElderWatch: Report Fraud http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/income/elderwatch/report-fraud/ (1/17/17)
National Council on Aging. Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/ (1/15/17)
National Council on Aging. 8 Tips for How Seniors Can Protect Themselves from Money Scams. https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/protection-from-scams/ (1/17/17)
Protecting the Elderly From Financial Abuse http://www.aba.com/Consumers/Pages/ProtectingTheElderly.aspx (1/15/17)
Common Fraud Schemes https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes (1/15/17)
Edward Jones, “Fraud Awareness & Prevention” https://www.edwardjones.com/client-resources/fraud/ (1/19/17)
Edward Jones “Fraud Red Flags” https://www.edwardjones.com/client-resources/fraud/red-flags.html (1/19/17)
Edward Jones “What If I’ve Been Scammed?” https://www.edwardjones.com/client-resources/fraud/resources.html (1/19/17)
Edward Jones presentation “Outsmart the Scammers” as presented on 10/18/16 by Keith Winterhalter.
National Crime Prevention Council “Seniors can Shut Down Scoundrels and Scams” https://www.ncpc.org/resources/files/pdf/senior-crime/Senior%20Crime%20Flyer.pdf (1/15/17)
National Credit Union Administration “Scams Targeting Older Adults” https://www.mycreditunion.gov/Pages/scams_targeting_older_adults.aspx (1/17/17)
Forbes “Why Do Elderly Parents Fall For Scams That Seem So Obvious To Us?” http://www.forbes.com/sites/carolynrosenblatt/2014/02/13/why-do-elderly-parents-fall-for-scams-that-seem-so-obvious-to-us/#380dab3a46ec. (1/17/17)