Elder fraud is a type of financial abuse that targets older adults, typically those over the age of 60. It involves the misappropriation or theft of an elder’s money, property, or assets. Elder fraud can take many forms, including telemarketing scams, mail fraud, and other types of deceit or trickery.
Perpetrators may be strangers, such as scam artists running a telemarketing scam, but sadly, they can also be friends, family members, or caregivers. Fraudsters often target elders because they may be more trusting, have substantial savings, or be suffering from cognitive decline. It’s a serious issue that causes significant harm to the victims, robbing them of their financial security and often their trust and peace of mind.
How Do I Identify a Scam Artist?
Identifying a scam artist can be challenging, as they’re skilled in manipulation and deceit. However, there are several warning signs to watch out for:
- Unsolicited Contact: Scam artists often contact their victims uninvited. This could be via phone call (common in telemarketing scams), email, or regular mail. Be wary of unsolicited communications, especially those that ask for personal or financial information.
- Pressure to Act Quickly: Scammers often create a sense of urgency to prevent you from taking the time to think or consult with others. They may pressure you to make a quick decision or demand immediate payment.
- Requests for Money: This is a clear red flag. Scam artists may ask you to send money, provide your bank account details, or disclose other sensitive information. They might also ask for payment via unconventional methods, like gift cards or wire transfers.
- Too Good To Be True: Offers that seem too good to be true often are. For example, you might be told you’ve won a lottery you never entered or are offered an investment opportunity with suspiciously high returns.
- Secrecy: Scammers often instruct their victims not to discuss the situation with others. They know that if you consult with someone, you’re likely to realize it’s a scam.
If you suspect you or a loved one is a victim of elder fraud or any form of financial elder abuse, it’s important to report it to the authorities. This could include your local law enforcement agency, your state’s Department of Aging or adult protective services, or the Federal Trade Commission for cases involving mail fraud or telemarketing scams.
What Types of Scams Should I Be Aware Of?
There are several types of scams that target elders. We will go over each below.
These occur when fraudsters call victims and pose as representatives from a trusted company or government agency. They might attempt to sell unnecessary services, solicit donations for fake charities, or trick elders into giving out personal information.
Mail fraud schemes can be quite elaborate and convincing. One common example involves lottery or sweepstakes scams. In these scams, an elder might receive an official-looking letter stating they’ve won a substantial amount of money or a luxury prize.
However, to claim this prize, they’re instructed to send a small payment for “processing fees” or “taxes.” In reality, there is no prize, and the scammer takes the money and disappears. They might also continue to target the victim, asking for more and more money under various pretenses.
Financial Elder Abuse
Financial elder abuse encompasses a wide range of exploitative behaviors. In some cases, it may involve a caregiver or even a family member who takes advantage of an elder’s trust or dependency. For example, they might manipulate the elder into signing documents that transfer assets, power of attorney, or deeds to property. Or, they may misuse the elder’s credit cards, drain their bank accounts, or steal checks to gain illicit access to their money.
With the rise of the internet, online scams targeting elders have become increasingly prevalent.
One example is the infamous “Nigerian prince” email scam, where the victim is contacted by someone claiming to be a foreign dignitary who needs help moving large sums of money, promising a substantial portion of the funds for assistance. Of course, the victim is required to pay a ‘small’ fee to help with the transaction, which leads to financial loss without any return.
Another example is phishing scams, where scammers impersonate banks or government agencies to trick victims into giving out sensitive personal information:
- Email Phishing: The scammer sends an email that appears to come from a reputable source, such as a bank, a popular online retailer, or a government agency. The email might say there’s a problem with your account, and you need to update your information to resolve it.
- There’s typically a link in the email that directs you to a fake website designed to look like the real thing. Once there, you’re asked to enter personal information, which the scammer then steals.
- Spear Phishing: This is a more targeted form of phishing. The scammer researches their target and uses specific information to make their message seem more legitimate. For instance, they may use your name and reference a legitimate transaction you’ve recently made.
- Smishing and Vishing: These are forms of phishing that occur via SMS (text message) and voice calls, respectively. Like email phishing, these scams involve fraudulent messages or calls, purportedly from trusted entities, that try to trick you into revealing sensitive information.
- Website Phishing: This involves creating a bogus website or web page that closely mirrors a legitimate site. The scammer then tricks users into visiting the fake site (often via a link in a phishing email or a fraudulent ad) and entering their login credentials or other personal details.
The grandparent scam preys on the love and concern an elder has for their family. A scammer will call an elder and pretend to be a grandchild who’s in trouble – maybe they’ve been arrested, been in a car accident, or are stranded in a foreign country.
The ‘grandchild’ is desperate and needs money immediately but doesn’t want other family members to know. The elder, wanting to help their loved one, sends the money only to find out later that their actual grandchild is safe and the call is a scam.
What Are Some Signs That My Loved One Is a Victim of Financial Fraud?
Watch out for these signs of financial fraud:
- Sudden Changes in Finances: If you notice unusual banking activities, large withdrawals, new credit cards, or unpaid bills, your loved one might be a victim of fraud.
- Secrecy about Finances: If your loved one becomes secretive or defensive about their finances, it could indicate that something is wrong.
- Change in Lifestyle: Significant changes in lifestyle or living conditions could be a red flag.
- Fear or Confusion about Money: If your loved one suddenly seems confused or anxious about their money, they may be experiencing financial abuse.
What Should I Do if I Am a Victim of a Scam?
If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a scam, contact your local law enforcement agency and file a report. Update passwords for all your accounts to help prevent further unauthorized access. If you’ve been targeted by a telemarketing or mail fraud scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
Reach out to your bank, credit card companies, and any other relevant financial institutions. Let them know what has happened and follow their advice. Keep a close eye on all of your financial accounts and report any suspicious activity immediately.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I Am a Victim of Elder Fraud?
Yes, hiring a lawyer can be very beneficial if you’re a victim of elder fraud. They can help you understand your rights, guide you through the legal process, and help you recover your lost assets.
If you’re looking for an experienced elder law attorney, LegalMatch is an excellent resource. LegalMatch can match you with a lawyer who practices elder law and has the experience to handle your case effectively.
Don’t wait. Reach out to a lawyer through LegalMatch today.