Learn the warning signs of financial scams and how you can protect your loved ones
Almost every day, we see TV news stories about unscrupulous individuals and companies taking advantage of seniors.
Financial predators often target the elderly because they may be lonely, more willing to listen, and more trusting than younger people. For many of the same reasons, financial predators also often seek to take advantage of people with intellectual challenges.
Melanie Lee, Certified Senior Care Manager and Founder of Flourish in Place, knows this from personal experience.
“My 65-year-old, intellectually-disabled sister Melinda is at the intersection of both of those populations. It’s a bit of a double whammy,” she says. Melanie has cared for her sister for the past 20 years as Melinda’s court-appointed plenary guardian.
“Let me share some examples of times my sister has been had! A resident of a facility in which my sister lived shared a cab with her to visit the mall. The “friend” signed up for a cell phone service, having my sister sign the contract.
The deal was the “friend” got to use the phone, and my sister paid the bill. Fortunately, my sister’s caseworker found out about the phone and confiscated it. I had to call the cell phone company and tell them to write off the phone and the contract. They had made a poor decision and contracted with a person declared incompetent by the courts.
Another time, my sister signed up for a TV service at an assisted living facility. The salesman let her sign the contract, even though she clearly did not understand it. When my sister had to move in a few months and I called to cancel the service, I learned that she had signed a 3-year contract and would owe hundreds of dollars if she canceled. I had to let them know she had no legal authority to sign a contract in the first place, and that they would not be getting any more money.
My sister called me recently and said she was signing up to get an emergency pendant to wear in the shower and when she is outside of the assisted living facility. She told them she had no money now but to call her at the beginning of the month. I give my sister an allowance each month on a debit card so that she can go out to lunch or buy a few things she needs.
This pendant was going to cost her $25/month. When I told her that she does not have that kind of money, she replied that she has her debit card. She has a total disconnect between the debit card and where that money comes from, even though we talk about it every month.”
Children and guardians of seniors often face the same issues as Melanie’s sister, with worse consequences. Most elderly people, even those with advanced dementia, do not have court orders declaring them incompetent. Therefore, they can and do sign away money to scammers and thieves, without any real hope of getting their money back when the truth of the elder fraud comes to light.
Protecting your loved ones from financial scams
The best plan to protect your elders is to keep them aware of scam schemes and to be diligent in watching over their funds.
If you suspect your senior might be someone who could fall prey to elder fraud or make poor money decisions, it might be time to have the conversation with them about helping them with their finances.
They might be quite relieved to give up the burden of paying those bills themselves, and it might protect their financial future.
Trusted educational resources to help you spot scams
- The FBI has a great resource page of common elder fraud schemes.
- AARP has a Fraud Resource Center with 70+ articles on various types of common financial scams targeting seniors and others. You can also sign up for alerts to your phone.
- The American Bankers Association has a resource page with many ways to prevent elderly financial abuse.
- The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has a comprehensive list of the top 10 financial scams targeting seniors.
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