Senior exploitation happens more often than you might think, and there's no better time to focus on it than June for World Elder Abuse Month. With the aging baby boomer population comes a higher concentration of wealth in the hands of seniors. On top of that, with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, this population may be even more susceptible to different types of healthcare and charity scams.
Across the industry, elder financial exploitation cases are on the rise year over year, and USAA is noting similar trends impacting our membership. According to the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists, elder financial exploitation costs seniors in the U.S. up to $36.5 billion each year. Additionally, one in five people ages 65 or older report being a victim of financial exploitation or abuse.
Industry data also shows that exploitation is often the most underreported of incidents to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services. That's why we're urging members to be on the lookout, both for themselves and their loved ones, for this type of financial exploitation.
Who to Watch
Sometimes the perpetrators can take us completely by surprise. Nine out of ten perpetrators who commit elder abuse are family members or other trusted individuals, like a romantic partner. They are usually people we would know and trust with our elderly relatives. When elderly or other kinds of vulnerable adults put their trust in the wrong person, it can lead to major financial upheaval in their lives. People like caregivers, new "friends" or even a close family member can sometimes perpetrate these scams.
What to Watch Out For
Common warning signs or "red flags" to help you identify potential elder financial exploitation include:
- A previously uninvolved relative, caregiver or friend begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of an elder consumer without proper documentation
- Sudden non-sufficient fund activity or unpaid bills.
- Uncharacteristic requests to wire money
- Unusual activity in an older person's bank accounts, including large, frequent or unexplained withdrawals
- ATM withdrawals by an older person who has never used a debit or ATM card
- Suspicious signatures on checks, or outright forgery
- Refusal to make eye contact, shame or reluctance to talk about the problem
- Checks written as "loans" or "gifts"
- Bank statements that no longer go to the customer's home
- Altered wills and trusts
Common Scams Targeting the Elderly Right Now
- Romance– One of the most common scams. Typically, scammers contact victims online either through a chatroom, dating site, social media site, or e-mail. Inevitably, con artists in these scams will ask their victims for money for a variety of things. Often, scammers will ask for travel expenses so they can supposedly visit the victims. In other cases, they claim to need money for medical emergencies, hotel expenses, hospital bills for a child or relative, visas or other official documents, or losses from a temporary financial setback. Perpetrators may also send checks for victims to cash under the guise that they are outside the country and cannot cash the checks themselves, or they may ask victims to forward the scammer a package.
- Phishing and Supply Scams - Scammers impersonate health organizations and businesses to gather personal and financial information or sell fake test kits, supplies, vaccines or cures for COVID-19.
- Stimulus Check or Economic Relief Scams - The government is sending money by check or direct deposit to ease the economic impact of the virus. However, the government will NOT ask for a fee to receive the funds, nor will they ask for your personal or account information.
- Home Sanitation Scam: Seniors are being targeted with phone or online offers to have their homes cleaned and sanitized, but these offers require prepayment.
- Charity Scams - Fraudsters seek donations for illegitimate or non-existent organizations.
- Provider Scams - Scammers impersonate doctors and hospital staff, claim to have treated a relative or friend of the intended victim for COVID-19 and demand payment for treatment.
- Coronavirus vaccine scams: Fraudsters are calling seniors claiming to have a coronavirus vaccination or preventative medicine and seeking an over-the-phone payment to reserve their dose
- Grandparent Scams - In this scam, imposters either pretend to be the victims' grandchild and/or claim to be holding the victims' grandchild. The fraudsters claim that grandchild is in trouble and needs money to help with an emergency, such as getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill, or leaving a foreign country. Scammers play on victims' emotions and trick concerned grandparents into wiring money to them. After payment has been made, the fraudster will more likely than not call the victim back, claiming that there was another legal fee of which they were not initially aware. In another version of this scam, instead of the "grandchild" making the phone call, the con artist pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, or a doctor.
- Sweepstakes Scams / Jamaican Lottery Scams - Sweepstakes scams continue to claim senior victims who believe they have won a lottery and only need to take a few actions to obtain their winnings. In this scam, fraudsters generally contact victims by phone or through the mail to tell them that they have won or have been entered to win a prize. Scammers then require the victims to pay a fee to either collect their supposed winnings or improve their odds of winning the prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected. During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the "prize money" removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces.
How to Prevent Financial Exploitation of the Elderly
Although difficult to prevent when it involves someone you may know, love or trust, there are certain actions individuals can take to prevent elder abuse. Here are some tips from the Justice Department:
- Be aware and stay educated to the latest scams out there
- Know who has access to your personal and financial information and be careful when considering sharing financial information with a new love interest
- Regularly review your financial statements and make sure to check your credit reports
- Be safe on the computer – beware of clicking links from unfamiliar parties
- When in doubt, hang up the phone!
Where to Report Suspected Senior Exploitation
If you or someone you know might be the victim of this type of exploitation, there are things you can do to help. If the case is life-threatening contact 911. For financial exploitation, contact the Fraud Department at each of the financial institutions you hold an account (at USAA, you can reach us at 1-800-531-8722), and report to your local adult protective agency or area agency on aging. You can also contact your local law enforcement office.
"Countering the Financial Exploitation of Elders and Other Vulnerable Populations," presentation by the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (Accessed 06/04/2020)