Elder Financial Abuse
Recent studies suggest that financial exploitation—the illegal or improper use of an older American’s funds, property or assets—is the most common form of elder abuse.
This abuse costs older Americans billions of dollars a year, with as many as 17 percent of Americans 65 and older reporting that they have been the victim of financial exploitation. Worse, it is estimated that only one in 44 cases ever comes to the attention of protective services. This abuse is robbing older Americans of their resources, dignity, and quality of life which many will never recover.*
Older Americans are not alone in the fight to stop financial abuse.
At USSFCU, we recognize the tremendous opportunity we have to protect our senior account holders. We strive to shield older members from financial abuse and intervene effectively when older account holders are targeted or victimized. As part of our ongoing commitment to protecting our valued senior account holders, we’ve dedicated a portion of our website to sharing up-to-date information and tips to help prevent common frauds, scams, and other types of elder financial exploitation.
Common scams used to defraud seniors >>
Medicare & Health Insurance Scams
In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for older adults at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
IRS Impersonation Scams
In this scam, IRS impersonators often accuse victims of owing back taxes that must be paid immediately. After an initial “payment” is made, con artists often convince victims to make additional payments to prevent arrest or other adverse actions.
The IRS Will Never
- Call a taxpayer to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without mailing a bill to the taxpayer.
- Demand that a taxpayer pay taxes without allowing him or her to question or appeal the amount claimed to be owed.
- Ask for a credit or debit card number over the phone.
- Threaten to send local police or other law enforcement to have a taxpayer arrested.
- Require a taxpayer to use a specific payment method for taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
Scammers will place a call to an older person, and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the grandchild's name the scammer most sounds like the scammer has established a fake identity without having done any background research. The fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect.
Phone Scams & Robocalling
Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people. With no face-to-face interaction and no paper trail, these scams are tough to trace. Once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.
Robocalling is using equipment to mechanically, as opposed to manually, dial phone numbers in sequence.
Do Not Accept Robocalls - Unsolicited robocalls are illegal! Hang up immediately if you receive a pre-recorded sales pitch by phone and report the call to the FTC. Never attempt to opt-out of the call and never give the automated dialer time to forward the call to a live person. Robocall products are often a sham, and spending a lot of time listening could lead to more bogus calls later.
“Can you hear me?”
The scammer will ask, “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” to prompt the recipient to say “yes.” The scammers record the consumer’s voice, and thus obtain a voice signature, and use the recording to authorize unwanted charges on items like utility bills, phone bills, or even stolen credit cards.
You can reduce the number of unwanted sales calls you get by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry. It’s free! Visit donotcall.gov to register your number.
One common scam involves someone impersonating a charity foundation to collect donations. This fraudulent appeal is especially common following a natural disaster.
Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams
A scammer may claim to be associated with a prize or lottery commission. They may tell the victim that they won the lottery or a special prize and that they need to send money to cover the taxes on their winnings.
An email phishing scam can happen when a senior receives an email appearing to be from a legitimate entity such as the IRS requesting them to update or verify their personal information. When the senior reveals their social security number, credit card information, or other sensitive information, the scammer may use it for identity theft.
Forward unwanted or deceptive messages to the Federal Trade Commission at [email protected]. Be sure to include the complete spam email.
Banking scams involve attempts to access your bank account. Some popular banking scams include:
- Overpayment scams: A scam artist sends you a counterfeit check. They tell you to deposit it in your bank account and wire part of the money back to them. Since the check was fake, you’ll have to pay your bank the amount of the check, plus you’ll lose any money you wired.
- Unsolicited check fraud: A scammer sends you a check for no reason. If you cash it, you may be authorizing the purchase of items or signing up for a loan you didn’t ask for.
- Automatic withdrawals: A company sets up an automatic debit from your bank account as part of a free trial or to collect lottery winnings.
- Phishing: You receive an email message that asks you to verify your bank account or debit card number.
Report counterfeit checks to the Federal Trade Commission, either online or by phone at 1-877-382-4357.
Preventative tips for avoiding scams >>
Recognize Swindlers at First Contact
Scammers often pose as public servants, distant relatives, non-profit organizations, or representatives from familiar companies when approaching their targets. Verify who you are speaking with before sending someone money or communicating your personal information, especially if the unexpected request originates from text messages, phone calls, or emails.
Never Send Money to Strangers
Fraudsters likewise pretend to be people in despair or loved ones who require help. These thieves will create fake websites or phony profiles on social media with the intent to deceive honest people into sending them money. Don’t be a victim—never send cash to someone you haven’t personally met.
Beware of Caller ID
Crooks often use hi-tech gadgets to send fake phone numbers to caller ID equipment; this means the number that pops up on your cell phone may not be real! Hang up on people who ask you for money or personal information over the phone, even if you recognize the number—you can always call the person back if you believe the request is legit.
Google Bizarre Money Requests
Discovering if strange money requests are genuine is easy in today’s internet society. Launch your favorite search engine and type in the business name, product name, or name of the person soliciting the cash. Next, include words like “scam,” “fraud,” or “fake,” and watch what happens. You may also Google unusual incidents such as “fake free iPod text” or perform phone number searches to learn if others fell victim to similar scams.
Use Credit Cards and Never Wire Cash
Banks protect credit card purchases from fraud, and they can reverse charges for customers who were victimized. Other payment methods, however, hold no fraud protection; for instance, cash transactions via Western Union wires or MoneyGram vouchers are irreversible once the receiver withdraws the electronic funds.
Get Advice Before Sending Cash
Always talk to a trusted friend, family member, or a financial adviser before you surrender cash or give someone your personal information if you believe an offer is too good to be true. Thieves get paid when fraud victims make hasty decisions under pressure. Take it easy, investigate the offer, do online searches and talk to someone. If the offer is legitimate, it will be there tomorrow for you to accept.
Never Prepay for a Promised Good or Service
Fraudsters often demand their victims pay in advance for services like home repair, credit repair, low-interest loan offers, or job placement assistance. Scammers may even claim that you must pay a small fee or pre-pay taxes to collect prizes you’ve won—don’t do it; chances are you’ll never see this money again.
Scrutinize Free Trial Periods
Companies are in business to make money and not to hand out free products or services. Beware of free trial periods that give you something free for a month, then bill you every month afterward until you cancel. Examine free trial offers carefully and study the fine print that memorializes the cancellation rules. You should further review your billing statements for unauthorized charges after accepting a free trial offer.
Designate a “Trusted Contact” to Monitor Bank and Broker Accounts
Sadly, friends or family of victims commit ninety percent of financial fraud incidents in the US. You can lessen this risk by assigning a bank or brokerage account "trusted contact" (trusted relative or friend) to act on your behalf whenever financial institutions suspect fraud on your account — doing so will give you a pair of second eyes for monitoring fraud activity.
Never Send Money After Depositing Unfamiliar Checks
Bank checks often take weeks to clear and even more time if they’re drawn from overseas financial institutions. American banks may advance you the funds on deposited checks within days, but that does not mean the bank draft isn’t fake—you are legally responsible for repaying the bank when checks bounce, so never wire money back to people who send you suspicious bank drafts.
Remain Socially Active
Isolation is one thing that can contribute to a senior’s financial vulnerability, as being cut off from the outside world can make it more difficult for others to detect warning signs. An isolated individual may also feel that they lack the resources and relationships they need to feel financially secure. One of the best safeguards against financial elder abuse is to create a strong support system.
Avoid Joint Bank Accounts
Some seniors might open a joint bank account so that a family member can more easily make payments or withdrawals on their behalf and help manage their finances. But a joint bank account can also serve as an easy way for theft and abuse to occur.
Don’t Give Up Your Home
Particularly when moving into an assisted living facility, an older adult might consider signing over their home to a trusted family member in order to let that person handle the selling of the home. A home can be among a senior’s most valuable assets, however, and it may not be a safe idea to sign the home over to another person, no matter how trustworthy they might be.
Invoke a Power of Attorney
The risk of financial abuse heightens after a person develops a decreased capacity to make independent financial decisions. Invoking a power of attorney can be one proactive way to prepare for the future of one’s wealth and assets. Seniors can consider getting legal advice to help in this process.
Set Up a Revocable Trust
Placing a senior’s assets in a revocable living trust and naming a fiduciary can be one way to protect against outsiders getting access to any of the senior’s assets that are of significant value.
Additional resources that can help >>
To request printed copies of the publications below by mail service, please email us at [email protected].
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Provides information on common frauds, scams and other forms of exploitation and suggests steps to avoid being targeted or victimized.
This identity protection guide from the CFPB explains steps older adults can take to protect personal information before and after a breach.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a U.S. government agency that regulates the activity of banks, lenders, and other financial institutions to ensure consumers remain free of unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices. For more information from the CFPB's Office for Older Americans, visit the resources for older adults page of their website.
The U.S.Senate Special Committee on Aging was initially established in 1961 as a temporary committee; it became a permanent Senate committee in 1977. The committee conducts oversight of the Medicare program, Social Security, and the Older Americans Act. For more information from the Committee on Aging, visit their website at aging.senate.gov.
Fighting Fraud: Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting Our Nation’s Seniors
The U.S. Department of Justice
|The Department of Justice's Elder Justice Initiative fights financial crimes against older Americans through outreach efforts that include scam alerts, training, and more. Learn more on their website at justice.gov/elderjustice.|
Additional State and Federal Resources and websites that provide more information on elder financial abuse.
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services builds awareness of elder fraud, allows for fraud to be reported, and provides support for victims and their families.
- National Institute of Justice conducts research and provides information about the financial exploitation of the elderly with the goal of improving knowledge and understanding of the crime.
- Elder Financial Protection Network is an organization dedicated to helping seniors recognize and avoid financial abuse.
- National Adult Protective Services Association has representation in all 50 states and works to increase awareness of elder abuse through education and advocacy.
- National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) serves as a national resource center dedicated to the prevention of elder mistreatment. First established by the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) in 1988 as a national elder abuse resource center, the NCEA was granted a permanent home at AoA in the 1992 amendments made to Title II of the Older Americans Act.
- National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse A non-profit organization, the NCPEA is made up of researchers, practitioners, educators, and advocates, all dedicated to preventing abuse of senior adults.
Learn strategies to help you prevent elder financial fraud from happening to you or a loved one with these interactive learning lessons from USSFCU.
If you think that a family member or friend has been exploited, call your local adult protective agency and law enforcement to report it. You can visit eldercare.gov to find your local adult protective services agency and other service providers that can help.
USSFCU is a Proud Member of the National Association of Senior Advocates
The National Association of Senior Advocates was founded to protect our senior population from unethical business practices, scams, and businesses that attempt to target and exploit older consumers. Please visit their website at www.naosa.org to take advantage of their resources.
The content on this page provides general consumer information. It is not legal advice or regulatory guidance. We do not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of third-party information.