America is getting older. With 10,000 people turning 65 each day, both they and their families will be faced with some new challenges. Sure, we’re familiar with the common struggles. Adjusting to retirement, healthcare, transportation, and so on. However, another issue needs serious consideration. Keeping our seniors safe, financially and otherwise.
Our aging elder population is targeted for financial abuse at an alarming rate. 37% of seniors report that they’re currently being pitched by people calling or mailing them asking for money. Nearly one out of five people over the age of 65 have been victimized by financial fraud. And typically, once the money is gone, it’s gone for good. According to a report released by the United States Senate, the losses add up to nearly $3 billion each year.
Why is this demographic targeted for abuse?
First, they’re more trusting than younger age groups. A study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that a high percentage of seniors responded with “yes” to the question, “do you think most people can be trusted?” If they’re approached with an offer or claim, they’re more likely to take the person’s word that they’re looking out for their best interest. And, for a fee, the person offering the service or product can take care of the problem or make their life just a little easier or more secure. It’s a very inviting pitch for many aging Americans.
Second, this demographic is lonely. Getting out and about isn’t as easy for them as it once was which cuts down on the amount of active personal relationships they have. If someone calls them or knocks on their door and is willing to talk and listen to them, that person will fill a vital need in the senior’s life. An already trusting person will be even more willing to show their gratitude for the attention by “helping” the stranger out and buying their product/service, or just outright giving them money.
Finally (but far from the last reason), we all know our mental abilities slip as we age. Occasionally, a criminal will target elderly people specifically for the reason that they can confuse or scare them into handing over cash more easily than a younger person. As the world and technology continue to evolve, things become even more foreign and difficult to understand for the oldest among us. They are particularly susceptible to fraud if it somehow involves technology.
What can you, the child, grandchild, or concerned friend do to help prevent this type of potentially life-altering crime from happening to a loved one?
Be consistently involved in their lives with phone calls, visits, dinners, trips to the grocery, or just watching TV with them. Build the relationship so they know they have someone to depend on and trust. While you’re spending time with them, ask them questions about what’s going on. Have they received any phone calls lately or had anyone stop by the house unexpectedly? Have they met anyone new (especially if they’re on social media)?
If you’re a family member or close friend, consider asking if you can help them with anything. See if they’d like help paying bills, even if that means you just sit at the table with them while they write checks. If your loved one is aware that they might be targeted for fraudulent offers, talk about how they would handle that situation. Create a go-to response to any offer/product/service pitch by having them tell the person something like, “well, I need to run it by my personal board of directors before I make a decision. I’m sure you understand.” Many times, seniors are too polite to be confrontational and wind up hurting themselves because they couldn’t say no. Help them come up with a phrase that will allow them to stop the conversation from going any further before they talk with someone else.
What are some possible signs that could indicate an elder may be susceptible to being exploited?
- If the senior begins having difficulty communicating with you or even understanding you.
- If their behavior abruptly changes (agitation, inappropriate comments, misconceptions, confusion, etc…).
- If they frequently misplace financial records, wallets, checkbooks, etc…
- If they’re struggling to express needs or desires regarding their affairs.
If you suspect your loved one has been a victim of fraud, or that someone is actively trying to exploit them, there are some groups you should contact. First, if you live in the state of Indiana, you can contact Adult Protective Services (APS) at 800-922-6978. If you live outside Indiana, check with your state government for a similar agency. If you’re concerned about if/when you should report something to APS, even a reasonable belief of financial exploitation is enough to make a report. If you are in doubt, call and let APS determine if the situation requires assistance from them or a local resource. Next, if you suspect there has been an instance of identity theft, a grandparent scam, a sweetheart scam, a lottery/sweepstakes scam, or anything of the sort, contact your local law enforcement on their non-emergency line. The report you provide will be limited to basic information about the victim and anything you can gather about the incident and suspect. If you believe that the senior could be in immediate danger based on the circumstances, always call 911 instead of the non-emergency line.
This isn’t a fun topic to discuss, but it is an important one. Some of those we love most are at a higher risk to fall victim to the bad intentions of another. It’s important that we do what we can to keep them safe from those who mean to do them harm.
Damian is the lead Financial Concierge on Your Money Line, the financial help line serving all Pete the Planner® Financial Wellness clients. Damian is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and loves answering your money questions. Despite sharing a last name and sense of humor, Damian and Pete are not related.