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How To Protect Seniors from Fraud, Money Scams and Financial Exploitation

Sep 4, 2021

Older adults often cannot earn back the money or property they’ve lost to scams, fraud, and exploitation.

Financial fraud is therefore devastating to seniors, and the practice has now become the fastest growing form of elder abuse.

Older adults have a twenty percent chance of becoming a financial fraud victim shortly after reaching their sixties.”

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What is Financial Elder Abuse?

Financial elder abuse takes place when thieves coerce, bully or deceive seniors into surrendering their money or property. Money scams targeting seniors will continue to rise into the next decade, and folks certainly don’t have to be “elderly” or “frail” to fall victim to fraud—age doesn’t matter to money scammers.

That being said, studies show that seniors simply trust people more, which probably is why many thieves and unethical professionals frequently target older adults more than any other age group.

Why Are Seniors More Susceptible to Money Scams?

Older adults acquire an abundance of financial assets before retiring; so, if you were a crook wouldn’t it make more sense to swindle seniors instead of defrauding young adults or millennials with limited wealth?

Targeting the older adults means bigger paydays for thieves—combine this with the ordinary cognitive and physical aging that arise as retirees get older and you’ll have a sense of why criminals often go after the money assets of seniors.

We mentioned that older adults trust people more easily than younger adults do. Dr. Shelley Taylor’s research at UCLA confirmed this thought in 2012 after finding senior test subjects were challenged at recognizing the faces of untrustworthy people, whereas adults under forty identified them faster.

Dr. Shelly and her colleagues further examined functional brain activity among the young and the elderly via MRI scans and found important dissimilarities.

According to the UCLA study, younger people experienced “gut feeling” brain reactions when exposed to untrustworthy faces. The older adult subjects on the other hand displayed “little to no activation” in the same brain area.

Scientists were baffled as to why this happens; but, one can conclude from Dr. Shelly’s research that older adults are more trusting and therefore more susceptible to senior financial fraud

How Can Older Adults Protect Themselves?

The NAOSA and its senior financial fraud prevention experts want to help older adults recognize a good scam when they see one.

Our advocates have studied popular elder abuse money scams and senior financial exploitation practices, and they know what lurks among the scamming phone calls, email frauds, and ever-popular snail mail cons that target older adults.

Let’s look at some tasks that seniors can do right now to protect themselves from financial fraud:

  • Stay Socially Active. Older adults without family or friends nearby are “likely targets” for senior money fraud scams, according to the National Institute on Aging—a governmental health group that also reported isolated older adults with signs of memory loss or dementia are exceptionally vulnerable to money fraud scams as well.

“Senior financial fraud scammers often aim for older adults who live in social isolation.”

  • Connect with Family and Friends. Interacting with relatives and friends is an important element of becoming a socially active senior. Older adults should welcome questions from loved ones about their financial matters or about their contacts with caregivers. Friends and family should be likewise concerned if caregivers insist on being present during personal conversations—a warning sign that elder abuse via manipulation may be taking place.
  • Trust your loved ones, but scrutinize their intentions. Fraud scammers may include family members, caregivers, professional associates, construction contractors, friends and colleagues. Always ask questions and consult trusted relatives or financial advisers before surrendering money assets to individuals, and if it does not feel right, don’t do it.

Remember—individuals requesting money for investing in the wellbeing of older adults will never have a problem with seniors verifying the legitimacy of their requests.

Allow monitoring of transactions at financial institutions. Let trusted family members observe and track bank account activities, IRA withdrawals and other financial transactions. Ask financial institutions to forward statements and transaction alerts to these individuals, who should only hold account access to fraud monitoring (no direct access to deposits of withdrawals).

“Over 80% of senior financial exploitation incidents involve family members.”

  • Consider dual power of attorney. Give two trusted individuals the power of attorney to handle your financial matters. Doing so may be logistically challenging, but the safeguard will ensure no one individual is in complete control of your assets.
  • Never give money to someone you don’t know. Meet strangers in person before granting them money or gifts.
  • Beware of romance money thieves. Fraud scammers often create fake profiles on dating sites or use social media messaging (Facebook, Instagram, and Google Hangouts) to initiate contact with their senior fraud victims. They establish trust with their lonely older adult targets via daily conversations or chats with hopes to start a romantic relationship and eventually ask them for money afterwards.
  • Never buy or invest right away. Unethical salespeople, home improvement contractors and insurance representatives often put pressure on seniors to purchase their products and services without delay so they won’t miss out on a perceived discount. Always take a day or two to scrutinize offers, and if you are interested, accept them via call back to the offeror.

“One time deals or buy now offers that are good today should likewise still be good tomorrow.”

  • Beware of door-to-door salespeople. These individuals often pressure seniors to buy fast (see above).
  • Block mail, text message, email and direct telemarketing solicitations. Ban unsolicited sales offers for five years by opting out of the Direct Marketing Association’s telemarketing, texting, mail and email programs. You may further eliminate unsolicited offers by calling toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT or by visiting

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