Financial fraud, if someone illegally or improperly takes a senior’s money or property, can be a form of elder abuse. Most states have laws that make elder financial abuse a crime and provide avenues for victims to find and punish the scammers.
Scammers may target older victims because they are perceived as vulnerable—people who are lonely, have a physical or mental disability, isolated, not used to handling their personal finances, or even those who have recently lost a spouse can all be targets.
Financial abuse can be difficult to fight because it goes unreported in so many cases. Many victims may be confused, afraid, or embarrassed to report that they have been the victim of a financial scam. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from financial elder abuse is to know what to look for and learn what to do if you suspect that you are the target of a scam.
How Do I Identify a Scam Artist?
Identifying a scam these days can be very difficult. Many of the scam artists who target seniors are charming and charismatic. They may pose as helpful and trustworthy individuals, or they may present themselves as people with authoritative knowledge. They can also come from anywhere—a scammer could be a stranger, an employee at the bank, or even a trusted relative.
Oftentimes these people target victims over the age of 50, mostly those who need help or are vulnerable and may not know of any legal options they may have. Because there is no one way to identify a scam artist, it is important to keep a close eye on finances and close relationships. If there is a large, sudden change in either, it could potentially be a sign of a financial scam.
What Types of Scams Should I Be Aware Of?
Most scam artists are very clever, and do their best to sound as legitimate as possible. They may know small details about the senior’s life or financial situation in order to make themselves sound more convincing. Possible scams include schemes to take either money or property. They may take several forms, such as:
- Telemarketing scams or mail fraud;
- Offering fake sweepstakes prizes and requiring payment for “taxes” or “fees” in order to get the prize;
- Selling useless or bogus items;
- Charging excessive amounts of money;
- Getting money or property through undue influence or fraud;
- Faking an injury;
- Faking or coercing the victim to sign legal documents (power of attorney, wills, deeds); and/or
- Unsolicited home repair work or home improvements.
Many scammers try to give their actions the appearance of legitimacy, and the scams can take many forms. In some situations, a scammer may pretend to have a connection to law enforcement and tells the victim that a close family member has been seriously injured or is in jail.
The scammer then convinces the victim to send money for the family member’s medical treatment or bail. Often, they tell the victim to keep this transaction confidential from other family members, which is how they avoid detection.
In other instances, they may try to give their actions a veil of legal authority and get seniors to sign documents such as a power of attorney, a will, a deed, or other legal document giving them access and rights to a senior’s property. They may get the senior to sign the document by lying to, intimidating, or threatening them.
What are Some Signs that My Loved One is a Victim of Financial Fraud?
Many seniors may not come right out and say they’re being scammed. Some may not realize it until it’s too late, and some may be too embarrassed to talk about it. However, there are some signs you can look for if you’re concerned about your loved one being the victim of a financial scam.
- Unusual or large withdrawals or transfers from bank accounts;
- A large number of unpaid bills;
- Checks missing signatures or with suspicious-looking signatures;
- New legal documents (like a will or power of attorney), that your loved one doesn’t appear to understand;
- Unusual changes in account beneficiaries or authorized signers;
- Entry forms and prize forms from contests;
- Payments for “free” vacations or other “prizes”;
- Sudden isolation (they may withdraw from people they interacted with before);
- A person suddenly forming a close relationship with your loved one (which gives them easy access to the home, money, and property);
- Missing property, especially if the senior is not able to explain what happened to it; and/or
- Untreated physical or mental problems (which can be evidence of substandard care).
What Should I Do If I am a Victim of a Scam?
In order to help others avoid the same scam, it is important to report it to the authorities. If you suspect that you or someone you love have been scammed or are the victim of elder financial abuse, you should report the scammer to law enforcement. Call your financial institutions, like your bank, and tell them about the scam.
There are also a variety of senior services groups that offer services like counseling for victims of elder abuse. But the most important action to take is to immediately stop paying into the scam, and if possible, cancel any pending transactions. While it is common to have a level of shame involved if you were a victim of a scam, keep in mind that these scams exist for a reason: because they work.
They are purposefully designed to prey upon certain groups of people, and the best way to stop these types of fraud and abuse is to report them and let the authorities know how the scam operated.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I am a Victim of Elder Fraud?
Sometimes it is difficult for law enforcement to track down the scammers. Oftentimes, once the money is gone, it’s too late to get it back. However, if you are the victim of a scam, you may want to contact an attorney. In some cases, you may be able to confront the scammers in court and get your property back.
If you or your loved one are the victims of financial fraud, it is in your best interests to contact a reliable attorney who can help you determine the best options available to you. Scam artists love to take advantage of people, but your attorney can help you navigate several avenues to try to recover your property and help others avoid the same situation.