For most of us, it’s hard enough just keeping our financial heads above water on a daily basis. Unless we’re lucky enough to have an accountant, we’ve got our hands full with budgeting, bank statements, bills, and taxes. Now, take all that financial stress and add onto it the layer of being retired, elderly, or disabled. Many scam artists see the elderly as the perfect targets.
Here’s what you need to know about financial elder abuse, and how you can protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming victims.
Financial Elder Abuse is On the Rise
Consumer Reports defines financial elder abuse as “the illegal or improper use of the funds, property, or assets of people 60 and older by family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.” The magazine says that elder abuse, including financial exploitation, costs elders and their families anywhere from $3 billion to $36 billion per year.
Unfortunately, financial elder abuse is only expected to get worse as Baby Boomers age. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the fastest-growing segment of the US population is aged 85+ – and by 2050 they will number 19 million, with another 70 million aged 65-84.
How Prevalent Is Financial Elder Abuse?
It’s tricky to estimate the prevalence of financial or any other type of elder abuse. Unlike physical abuse, it’s not always obvious just by looking. What’s more insidious is that people who are fooled or scammed often suffer in silence because they are often ashamed to admit it, fear retaliation, or wish to protect the abuser.
According to a New York study, for every one case of elder abuse they uncovered, they estimated there were 24 more unknown cases.
An Inside Job
Among the many sad facets of elder abuse is that 90% of abusers are close family members or friends. When you are dealing with all the struggles that come with aging – including health problems, decrease in financial capacity, possible cognitive decline, and the grief of losing so many people who are close to you – it can be hard to defend yourself against someone you’ve trusted all your life.
Scams and Exploitation of the Elderly
Victims of financial elder abuse are often afraid to admit that they were vulnerable for fear that their independence might be taken away. The emotional and psychic trauma of being ripped off is something that all of us can relate to at some point. But if it’s the nest egg you’ve been saving for all your life, the stress of a scam can impact your physical health too.
How Can You Protect Yourself and Loved Ones From Financial Elder Abuse?
Experts offer these tips to help protect yourself and elders from financial fraud:
- Never give out your own or anyone else’s Social Security number to someone who calls out of the blue (a “cold caller”) – regardless of how they identify themselves.
- Provide no other information, no matter how tempting the caller’s connection to you seems. For example, a scammer might appeal to an elder on the basis of having been in the same branch of the military or the same high school.
- If someone claims to be from your bank, a government agency, a charity, or the lottery or sweepstakes, politely end the conversation and call the institution in question to verify.
- Don’t be bullied. Sometimes when scammers can’t sweet-talk information from you, they’ll try intimidating you with threats, including screaming and cursing. You have no obligation to be polite to anyone who treats you that way: hang up.
- Discuss any doubts with various loved-ones, call the police, or an elder hotline.
- Shred any documents with personal information before tossing them.
In addition, read everything you can find to educate yourself about how scammers work, starting with our sources below.
- The US Government’s Department of Health and Human Services: National Center on Elder Abuse
- US National Institutes of Health Medline Plus: Elder Abuse
- National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse
- US News & World Report: How to Protect Your Loved Ones (and Yourself) from Financial Elder Abuse
If you think you or a loved one has been a victim of financial elder abuse, talk to a lawyer. It’s time to learn more about your rights and how you can be compensated for the physical, emotional, and financial strain you’ve experienced as a result.