You hear the story over and over again: an elderly person scammed out of their retirement by a family member or acquaintance. As one of our more vulnerable groups, the elderly are constantly targeted by the predators of our society because they’re lonely or easy to confuse. It’s a sad state of affairs, especially among a people so easy to manipulate. On average, elder fraud costs targets around $30,000. It is estimated only 1 in 44 instances of elder fraud is reported, while 1 in 6 senior citizens experience some kind of elder fraud — most are women.
What Makes the Elderly a Common Target?
The reasons are varied. Part of the reason is that the elderly are more likely to have funds in savings or property. While a protected group, senior citizens can sometimes sit on the fringes of society, without much by way of a voice in their affairs or many family or friends to keep them connected. Some are ill or infirm, and invite strangers in their homes by way of paid professionals to aid in their care. Loneliness is another factor in elder abuse; some will go above and beyond their normal behavior to maintain companionship, which can easily be manipulated. For some — women especially — the lack of access to financial literacy or education in their past can make them easier targets.
Signs Your Family Members Are Being Victimized
If your relatives are unable to answer questions about their finances, or seem to be struggling financially in ways they have difficulty verbalizing, it’s probably worth taking a closer look at what’s going on in their lives. Likewise, if a new person is in their lives and suddenly becomes a focal point (especially if they mention money in relation to that person), ask questions. Interest in their lives is never wrong and, in some instances, can save them untold heartache and financial loss.
How to Identify a Scam
The easiest way to identify a scam is that it’s always too good to be true. Medical, investment, and real estate scams make promises that cannot possibly be kept (or no-risk promises). “Get rich quick” schemes that are reserved for people “in the know,” or falling in love seemingly out of the blue with someone they just met are all signs to look a little harder into what’s happening. It’s also worthwhile to stay on top of scams and fraud schemes aimed at the elderly that are popular among predators so that the warning signs are apparent.
Fraud, scams and abuse can come from any angle. It might be (and frequently is) a family member taking advantage for personal gain. It might be someone your relative has hired to remodel their home to make it more accessible for their physical needs. It might be a cold-call salesperson offering pills for better living, or an email scam.
What Can We Do to Protect Them?
The easiest and simplest way to protect the elderly in your life is to be actively involved in theirs. The best way to watch over the senior citizens in your life is to move them into your home, which often requires home renovation aimed at accessibility. Make sure they have everything they need, including companionship. If they need hired professionals for care, be involved in the process. Get to know them. Check credentials. Have regular conversations about their financial state, and keep conversations about potential dangers going. Make sure they’re aware of what to look for, but don’t lecture. If you see or suspect something wrong, report it. Just as you would adjust the architecture of their home to protect their physical well-being, get involved in the architecture of their personal lives.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.