It is unfortunately common for older adults to be scammed or stolen from. In addition to basic property or identity theft, the following are examples of how older adults may be exploited:
- Overcharged for services
- Denied services already paid for
- Pressured into making investments or purchases
- Persuaded to lend money that is never repaid
- Tricked into signing over assets
Some scams may involve strangers targeting older adults over the phone, through the mail, through email, on websites, in newspaper ads or going door to door offering services. More commonly, exploitation involves trusted individuals such as neighbors, family members or financial advisors.
Individuals that an older adult trusts may take financial advantage of them by:
- Asking for money or gifts.
- Living with the older adult without paying for rent, utilities or other expenses.
- Convincing the older adult to make financial decisions that benefit them more than the older adult.
An older adult should generally be wary of any offers that require:
- Personal information such as their social security number or credit card details.
- Payment up front to claim a prize.
- Signing a power of attorney form.
- Payment via wire transfer.
- Payment within a certain amount of time.
To help protect personal assets, older adults should:
- Not share personal information with companies or individuals who initiate contact.
- Check bank and credit card statements often.
- Ask financial institutions to send alerts if there is unusual account activity.
- Request free credit reports online at AnnualCreditReport.com every few months.
- Sign up for scam email alerts from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission at Consumer.FTC.gov.
As someone helping an older adult, you can help prevent financial exploitation in two primary ways:
- Help the older adult understand common scams and tactics
- Encourage the older adult to be skeptical
Understanding Common Scams
Discussing common scams with the older adult can be very effective in preventing exploitation. Common scams include:
- Asking for payment up front and then not going or not finishing the work.
- Claiming to be a relative who needs money to deal with an emergency.
- Demanding immediate payment of taxes or loans.
- Going door to door to offer home improvement services.
- Pressuring the older adult to make business investments.
- Promising "free" lunches or trips.
- Saying the older adult needs to pay to collect lottery or sweepstakes awards.
- Seeking donations for urgent disaster relief efforts.
- "Spoofing" phone numbers, so the older adult's caller ID says the call is coming from a bank, company, government office or other legitimate-seeming source.
Additionally, certain tactics are red flags for potential exploitation. Encourage the older adult to say no and end the conversation if salespeople, contractors, callers or even people they know say something like:
- This is a limited offer, especially for you.
- You must make a decision or send money right now.
- We'll send more information after we receive your payment.
- This low-risk investment will quickly pay off big.
- We guarantee that you'll get this loan, credit card or prize.
- You've won a major prize or big money.
- So many others are taking advantage of this great offer.
- You need to make a cash deposit.
- This will keep your money safe from those bankers and lawyers.
- You'll never have to worry about your finances again.
Encouraging the Older Adult To Be Skeptical
To resist scammers' high-pressure tactics and emotional manipulation, encourage the older adult to:
- Ask for written information about donation appeals, investments or other offers.
- Look up companies or charities with the Better Business Bureau, Internal Revenue Service or watchdog groups like Consumer Reports.
- Check credentials, licenses and references before hiring professionals, contractors or other paid help.
- Get a detailed written estimate for any home improvement or professional work.
- Compare work estimates, product quality and prices before making major purchases.
- Pay for work, goods and services with checks or credit cards, not cash.
- Take time to make financial decisions.
- Check account and credit card statements for suspicious or unauthorized activity.
- Refuse to share account, personal or other financial information, unless the older adult contacted and has checked out the business.