Senior citizens are grandparents, neighbors, friends, and well-respected members of our society. Unfortunately, they’re also the most vulnerable to financial abuse. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) up to five million seniors experience financial abuse of some kind, costing older Americans more than $36.5 billion annually. Sadly, unlike some other forms of financial fraud, elder financial abuse victims often know their abusers, with around 60 percent of cases involving a family member.

In recognition of Elder Abuse Awareness Month this June, we’ll go over some of the warning signs and ways you can prevent it from happening.

What is considered elder financial abuse?

The U.S. Justice Department defines elder financial abuse as any improper use of an adult’s finances and property, either without their consent or through manipulative and threatening measures. 

How can I spot and stop elder financial abuse?

Preventing and stopping the abuse means knowing the warning signs. There are different things to look for, depending on if you suspect you may be the victim, or you suspect a relative may be getting abused.

What to look for as a senior

Be vigilant around new people.

No need to shun new friendships, but stories of new acquaintances turning out to be fraudsters are all too common. Be alert to solicitations of financial information and offers of “financial help”. Scammers may just be looking to gain your trust in order to get sensitive information and access to your accounts.

Check for account irregularities.

Often, seniors are on a fixed income with similarly fixed expenses, so any unusual purchases and withdrawals are a telltale sign that someone else has gained access to your finances. Carefully review your statements and look for any unusual transactions on a regular basis.

Be alert to tech scams.

Technology has become an omnipresent part of our daily lives, and scammers have taken advantage of this fact. One common scam involves a pop-up alert or phone call informing the victim of a potential virus. The fake tech support representative will request payment to remove the supposed virus, when in reality all they want is your money and financial information. If you truly suspect a computer problem, purchase legitimate virus software and perform a system scam, or alternatively, take it to a qualified tech repair center.

Keep cautious when it comes to calls.

Random, unsolicited calls claiming that you’ve won a prize, need to renew an auto warranty or that you’re in trouble with the IRS, are most likely scams. These fraudsters rely on their unknowing victims to give out sensitive financial and personal information in response to these calls. Remember, it is never a good idea to give out personal information over the phone.

What to look for as a caregiver or friend

Look for unpaid bills.

Unpaid bills and unknown purchases/withdrawals could be a sign that someone is taking advantage of your friend or family member. If you notice this, try talking to them about it to get more information and offer support. If it continues, consider reporting it to their financial institution and/or the authorities.

Look for signs of physical trauma.

Physical abuse can sometimes accompany financial abuse. If you notice unexplained bruises and injuries, question them about the injuries and consider getting proper authorities involved.

Keep in contact.

Often, abusers will want to isolate the victim so that they are less likely to get help. Show your support and thwart would-be fraudsters by keeping regular contact with your friend or family member.

The main takeaway is to keep an eye on your loved ones and be alert for yourself. Know the warning signs of abuse to keep yourself, your friends and family safe.  

Additional Resources

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