To con artists, down-on-their-luck relatives, or opportunistic acquaintances, older individuals are a goldmine, and here’s why. People over the age of 50 control 70% of the country’s wealth, and seniors between the ages of 65 and 74, with an average net worth of $1.06 million, have more assets than any other age group. Dementia, disability, and decline can make it even easier for criminals to con older adults out of their money, which is also known as elder abuse. There are many types of scams, unethical businesses, and unscrupulous individuals preying on seniors all the time. While the details vary, there are a few familiar scenarios.
Breach of trust
The vast majority of elder financial abuse ‒ as much as 90%, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association ‒ is committed by caregivers or close family members. Maybe a son is added to a checking account to help manage Mom’s bills and then starts using the account to pay off gambling debts. Or Grandpa gives valuables to the housekeeper and eventually ‒ at her suggestion ‒ names her in the will.
The phone rings and the caller says he is from the IRS and states that an individual has a tax bill that is going to rise with interest and fees unless paid immediately. Or someone calls with news that there is a problem with a credit card and they need a Social Security Number and birth date to access account information to clear things up. Unless you are certain of the identity of the call, never provide information to someone calling you.
As more seniors head online, they grow more susceptible to phishing scams. Phishing emails look like they come from legitimate sources, such as banks or credit card issuers. They ask seniors to click on a link to enter account information in order to verify recent transactions or to rectify problems with accounts. Unfortunately, the links are fake, and criminals use them to gather personal account information, which they use to drain accounts or steal identities.
Tips for staying safe
So, how do you protect yourself from elder financial abuse?
- Add your name and phone number to the Do Not Call Registry. This prevents businesses from contacting you.
- Ignore calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize.
- Never provide information to someone calling.
It’s also a good idea to establish bank accounts with reputable banks or credit unions because they have fraud protection services that limit an individual’s risk and may even have systems in place that make it possible to trace funds back to criminals in some instances.
For other tips on how you can protect your confidential information, visit SEFCU’s Security Section.