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August 2023 - Protecting Loved Ones from Elder Fraud

Elder FraudElder fraud comes in many forms and can include scams involving investments, lotteries, phone and gift cards, Medicare, Social Security and even romance. Sometimes it can be veiled as an offer to help; a neighbor or acquaintance volunteers to do the shopping or banking then uses their victim’s credit card or banking information for their own benefit. Whatever the form, elder fraud has one intention – financial exploitation.

It’s estimated that older adults collectively lose about $4.8 billion a year to elder fraud. That breaks down to about $34,000 per victim; closer to $83,000 per victim when the perpetrator is someone the victim knows. And those figures are based solely on known cases; many more go unreported. 

Why are the elderly so vulnerable? Isolation and decreased self-confidence due to memory loss and failing health are two reasons that often lead older adults to trust the wrong people.

Look for the Signs

How can you tell if your family member is being victimized? Look for significant, sudden changes in his or her personal or financial life:

  • A change in priorities,
  • A new relationship or greater significance given to an existing relationship,
  • Assisting someone else financially in secret,
  • Charges to, or payments from, their accounts that are larger than normal or for things they wouldn’t generally use,
  • The sudden appearance of a gatekeeper, someone controlling communications between your loved one and other family members.
How to Help

If you suspect elder fraud, act quickly. Report your suspicions to the local adult protection or law enforcement agency or consult an elder law attorney. Every state has laws against elder fraud, but statutes of limitations put timelines on prosecuting these crimes.

Other ways you can protect elder relatives: 

  • If you have suspicions, ask questions; don’t avoid tough topics.
  • Have a family pact stating the person who takes on the responsibility for helping the elderly relative with financial matters is to be accountable to other family members, reducing the opportunity for surreptitious activities. 
  • Most importantly, don’t blame or judge. Remember, your loved one is the victim, not the wrongdoer.
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