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Older adults can be particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation. Many have assets that make them a target for the criminally minded. They may depend on a family member or caregiver for help remaining independent, and fear retaliation if they report misdeeds. They may be embarrassed to admit they were exploited. Some may lack experience managing their finances or have cognitive impairments.
Perpetrators can include family members, caregivers and others close to the individual. Strangers also target victims, perhaps over the phone or Internet, with offers of fraudulent investments, home repairs, and other scams. The schemes and scams may take various forms, from writing unauthorized checks and outright theft of cash or other valuables, to investment and real estate fraud.
Steps to take
If you’re an older adult, take these steps to reduce the likelihood you’ll be targeted:
- Keep financial documents, whether paper or online, in a secure place. Monitor accounts and retain the statements.
- Take your time when making large financial decisions. Walk away or hang up if someone — even a loved one — exerts pressure or promises unreasonably high or guaranteed returns.
- Write checks to a legitimate financial institution rather than to a person.
- Be alert to phone calls from imposters. For example, someone might call you claiming to be from the IRS and demanding payment for back taxes. Another scam involves someone pretending to be a grandchild who’s in trouble and needs money. Unless you’ve initiated the call, don’t provide confidential information or send money.
- Beware of emails that ask for personal information, even if they appear to be from your financial institution — after all, your banker or financial professional should have this information. Ignore any contact information provided in the email and connect with your financial institution through another, trusted method, such as by phone, to check the request.
- As much as possible, maintain a social network. Criminals often target isolated people, reasoning they’re less likely to be aware of scams. They also may lack a trusted confidant with whom they can discuss concerns.
- Work with qualified professionals, including an accountant, banker and attorney.
Worried about someone else?
Perhaps you aren’t the older adult who could be targeted, but are wondering if a loved one may be a victim? Signs of abuse include a growing number of unpaid bills that the person’s income should cover, multiple checks written to cash, and large gifts or asset transfers to people purporting to be friends or pretending to help with the person’s finances.
If you suspect a loved one has been exploited, contact adult protective services in your area. You can search for agencies at https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx.