June is an important month for raising awareness about financial elder abuse. In fact, June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day , when organizations around the world focus their resources on highlighting the issue of elder abuse and working to prevent it. Part of WISER’s mission is to protect older Americans from financial fraud and abuse.
One of the most common forms of elder abuse is financial elder abuse—when older people are taken advantage of financially. Scam artists prey on retirees who may have amassed large amounts of savings, but have dwindling mental faculties, meaning they are less likely to stop or report the crime. Although people often think of con men as smooth, fast-talking strangers, perpetrators are frequently family, friends or neighbors, who abuse the trust of the victim. Especially troubling, considering they are already at a disadvantage financially, is the fact that women are twice as likely as men to be the victims of senior financial abuse.
If you suspect that an older person in your life is being victimized by a financial scammer, it is important to take action immediately. If there is physical danger, call 911. If it is not an immediate emergency, contact your state’s Adult Protective Services.
Whether you suspect they may be a victim or not, it is important to talk to older people in your life about financial elder abuse. It can be challenging to do so because oftentimes, you may be talking to an authority figure or someone who is used to teaching you about things, not vice versa (for example, a parent). The best way to approach the difficult task is to divide it into three parts. First, present the facts. Second, listen to what they have to say. Third, make a plan. Most importantly of all, have the conversation as you would with a friend or peer. Talking down to older adults can be insulting to the senior and cause people to tune out your advice, no matter how important or well-meaning it is.
1. Present the Facts
Explain how common elder abuse is: studies estimate annual financial loss nationwide to be around $2.9 billion. For that reason, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It truly could happen to anyone. Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone, and require some sort of help with either health care or home maintenance. Women are twice as likely as men to be victimized. The perpetrators are most frequently strangers (51% of the time), but it is also common for them to be family, friends or neighbors (34% of the time). For that reason, always be vigilant about giving away money, regardless of whom it is going to. Sixty percent of perpetrators are men. There are many different types of senior financial abuse, but the most common are telemarketing and internet fraud, identity theft and credit card fraud, the grandparent scam (pretending to be a grandchild in order to convince the senior to wire money), sweepstakes and lottery scams, and investment schemes and fraud. For more information on these types of scams and what they look and sound like, check out WISER’s fact sheet on the topic.
By first laying out out the facts in a non-judgmental tone, the older people in your life will understand this is an issue we all need to be prepared for, as well as able to consider whether they may potentially have been victimized already.
After making sure the older person in your life understands what financial abuse is, the next step is to listen. Who have they interacted with recently? Some people are embarrassed to admit they may have been scammed, so a kind, understanding ear is important.
3. Make a Plan
The third and final step is to make a plan to protect against future abuse. Think hard about who has access to financial accounts. Remember to never turn cash over to anyone and be skeptical about anyone asking you to wire money. Remove your name from solicitation lists, and if someone comes to you asking for money or with an offer, say you need time to consider. If pressure tactics are used (“you must do this now”), then be even more skeptical of its legitimacy. For more tips, see WISER’s fact sheet on protecting your income.
If someone thinks he or she may have been the victim of abuse, contact your state’s Adult Protective Services, and stick around as he or she talks to their representatives.
If you are wondering whether it is the right time to start having this conversation, know that it is never too early. Visit WISER’s financial elder abuse resource page for more information.