May 28, 2019 Elder Abuse

Scams & Financial Exploitation

By Donna L. Jackson

Financial scams targeting seniors is now considered “the crime of the 21st century.”[1] The FBI has stated a number of reasons why older adults may be the best target for scammers: Older adults are more likely to have a nest egg, people who grew up during the 1930s-1950s “were generally raised to be polite and trusting,” and older adults may be less likely to report out of fear of what others may think about the situation.[2] However, scammers may not always be a stranger over the phone or on the internet. In fact, “[o]ver ninety percent of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.”[3]

The Scams

The National Council on Aging lists three scams to be aware of in 2019: Social Security spoofing calls, the grandparent scam, and impersonators during natural disasters.[4]

  • The Social Security spoof involves a caller impersonating a Social Security Administration employee claiming the callee is facing charges or legal action if they don’t call back or continue on with the phone conversation.[5] The caller then attempts to gain personal information from the person on the phone.[6]
  • The Grandchild scam involves callers claiming to be someone’s grandchild in trouble and requesting money. These scammers call an older adult and greet them with something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?”[7] This allows the caller  to impersonate a grandchild the callee associates the caller’s voice with.[8] When the callee is convinced  they are speaking with a grandchild, the caller  requests money to help with some financial downfall the “grandchild” can’t tell his or her parents about.[9]
  • Another scam that is being used to tug at people’s heartstrings is the requesting of money or information to help those affected by natural disasters.[10] Callers impersonate charities and request money collected by fake websites, allegedly to benefit those affected by a natural disaster  A variation includes callers  impersonating  IRS employees to gain information “under the guise of helping victims file loss claims and get tax refunds.”[11]

Aside from these scams, there are also people who pose as Medicare representatives “to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics then use their personal information to bill Medicare and pocket the money.”[12] Scammers may also show up at a funeral service to harass the grieving widow(er) about unsettled debts the decedent owed, or a disreputable funeral home may try and tack on extra charges to a funeral bill.[13] Other scams include the selling of counterfeit prescription drugs online, the selling of fraudulent anti-aging products, telemarketing or phone scams requesting money, online virus downloads, investment schemes, scams to convert unlocked equity to a reverse mortgage, and sweepstakes and lottery scams that that collect fees and taxes on bogus prize money checks.[14]

Estimates show that approximately “[five] percent of the elderly population (which equates to around two to three million people) suffer from some sort of scam every year.”[15] Of course, this is only based on the scams actually being reported—the actual numbers could be higher. Critically, scammers are taking approximately three billion dollars every year from these individuals.[16] However, there are ways for older adults to spot these scams and for family members to help protect their loved one. First and foremost, deals that seem too good to be true usually are; it’s always a good idea to ask for more information about the company if someone is trying to sell the deal of a lifetime. For telemarketing fraud, the FBI recommends being wary of unfamiliar companies, taking time before making a decision to give money away, and asking questions to verify information.[17] Family members can look for any unusual spending habits or an elderly family member’s growing reluctance to discuss financial matters that were discussed before. Furthermore, family members can watch out for any unpaid bills that their loved one had no problem paying for before.

Financial Exploitation by Loved Ones

Strangers are not the only predators looking to prey on older adults. As previously stated, family members and those closest to the older adult are the most common financial exploiters. It is because of the close relationship and trust that the older adult has with these individuals that opens the door for financial exploitation.

There are numerous ways a family member, caregiver, or close friend can abuse and exploit an older adult. Direct financial exploitation may involve someone abusing his or her role as an older adult’s power of attorney or taking advantage of a joint bank account. A caretaker may also refuse to get the older adult necessary medical care in order to preserve assets for the caretaker’s use. It is important for estate planning and elder law attorneys to have conversations with clients about who they want to appoint as powers of attorney and how accounts are titled. Having these conversations can help protect the clients from becoming vulnerable to financial exploitation down the road.

Those close to an older adult could also simply steal from the older adult. A family member or trusted friend may try to steal checks, money, or debit / credit cards from the older adult. Those looking to financially exploit an older adult may also threaten physical harm or abandonment if the older adult does not give the abuser money.

Financial exploitation can severely impact an older adult. He or she may experience “[l]oss of trust in others; [l]oss of security; [d]epression; [f]eelings of fear, shame, guilt(,) anger, self-doubt, remorse, [or] worthlessness; [f]inancial destitution; . . . [b]ecoming reliant on government ‘safety net’ programs; [or] [i]nability to provide long term care needs.”[18] In fact, “[a]lmost one in ten financial abuse victims will turn to Medicaid as a direct result of their own monies being stolen from them.”[19] It is important for family members to look for signs of financial exploitation of their loved ones. And if there is financial exploitation occurring, the family and older adult can work with an elder law or estate planning attorney to prevent any further exploitation.

[1] Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors, Nat’l Council on Aging, https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/ (last visited Mar. 21, 2019).
[2] Fraud Against Seniors, Fed. Bureau of Investigation, https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes/seniors (last visited Mar. 21, 2019).
[3] Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors, Nat’l Council on Aging, https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/ (last visited Mar. 21, 2019).
[4] Brandy Bauer, Scams to Watch Out for in 2019, Nat’l Council on Aging (Jan. 24, 2019), https://www.ncoa.org/blog/3-most-popular-scams-targeting-seniors/.
[5] Id.
[6] Andrew Cannarsa, Inspector General Warns Public About Caller-ID “Spoofing” Scheme Misusing SSA Customer Service Number, Soc. Sec. Admin. (Oct. 22, 2018), https://blog.ssa.gov/inspector-general-warns-public-about-caller-id-spoofing-scheme-misusing-ssa-customer-service-number/.
[7] Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors, Nat’l Council on Aging, https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/ (last visited Mar. 21, 2019).
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Brandy Bauer, Scams to Watch Out for in 2019, Nat’l Council on Aging (Jan. 24, 2019), https://www.ncoa.org/blog/3-most-popular-scams-targeting-seniors/.
[11]Id.
[12] Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors, Nat’l Council on Aging, https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/ (last visited Mar. 21, 2019).
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] Top Internet Scams Affecting The Elderly, AgingInPlace (April 2019), https://www.aginginplace.org/internet-scams-affecting-elderly/.
[16] Id.
[17] See Telemarketing Fraud, Federal Bureau of Investigation, https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes/telemarketing-fraud
[18] Elder Financial Exploitation, National Adult Protective Services Association, http://www.napsa-now.org/policy-advocacy/exploitation/ (last visited April 25, 2019).
[19] Id.

Authors

Donna L. Jackson
Oklahoma City, OK

Donna J. Jackson is a nationally recognized attorney, authority, speaker and educator in estate planning. Ms. Jackson is a CPA and holds a Master’s Degree (LL.M.) in Elder Law. Ms. Jackson has over 30 years of legal experience. She limits her practice to elder law, probate and estate planning.