Elder Financial Exploitation & Prevention
Karen Fadzen, CFP®, CDFA™, CAS® XPYRIA Team Insights
Financial crimes against seniors are on the rise. Over 3.5 million older adults become victims of financial exploitation annually and suffer an average loss of over $34,000. Scammers target people of any age, but those over 60 are more vulnerable, and victims over 80 are likely to suffer even higher losses.
As investors, we tend to focus on investment risks such as market downturns, the banking system, etc. However, there are equally important risks to understand and address in order to protect our assets and those of the people we love. One of these is elder financial abuse — sometimes called elder financial exploitation — the misuse or theft of assets. It can happen to anyone.
Socially isolated parents and elders are at a higher risk because they:
- Desire to connect with other people
- May not have family or friends to step in when their financial security is compromised
- May suffer mild cognitive impairment
- “Filters are off”:
- Lose skepticism as we age
- Do not think of ourselves as “elders”
- Feel embarrassed
- Susceptible to “free” and “winning”
Elder financial exploitation can take the form of unauthorized bank withdrawals, check fraud, misuse of credit cards, scams, or property theft. Scammers all over the world are getting increasingly sophisticated and make, by some estimates, over 50% of all calls. According to AT&T Global Fraud Management, “For bad guys working out of a foreign country, one successful robocall can make $4,000, which might be the victim’s salary for a year.” In addition, non-scam attacks include:
- Theft by family members or others, such as a caregiver, known to the victim
- Account takeovers
- Identity theft
Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
- Banking changes and/or withdrawals
- Banking practices changes
- Unexplained cash & ATM withdrawals
- Addition of name on signature cards
- Financial documents & assets
- Abrupt changes in will or other
- Sudden transfers of assets
- Valuable items or funds missing
- Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives/people
- Forged signatures on financial transactions/titles
- Provision of unnecessary services
Tips to Avoid Scams in General
- NOTHING IS FREE – IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS!
- Even free services, apps for managing finances, credit scores etc. are collecting your data.
- Stay Educated
- Review accounts regularly
- Freeze credit
- Independent Verification – Do your own research
- Think before acting
- Make independent calls
- Emails/Texts – ALWAYS look at the “From” Email address
- Avoid hyperlinks in emails/texts etc.
- Online – be careful what you post & make public. Avoid public wi-fi. Use AC power outlets & carry external batteries. Scammers can use details shared on social media/dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Cards – Use credit cards, not debit cards. Only buy gift cards for gifts, not payments.
- Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
Additional Tips to Plan for Elder Cognitive Decline
- Bill Paying – automate and set up duplicate bills
- Bank/Investment Accounts
- Duplicate statements
- Designate Trusted Contacts on investment accounts
- “Protective Tribe” - identify a handful of people who are willing to step in and assist if an when the need arises
- Powers of Attorney for Financial & Healthcare Matters
- Identify a Legal Fiduciary if there are not trusted family members/friends