Seniors, Financial Abuse and Scams

Seniors, Financial Abuse and Scams

In 2016 more than three million Americans were the victims of financial abuse.  A major report from Met Life says that seniors lose $3 billion a year, but many other sources believe it is much higher.  Feeling foolish or embarrassed, many seniors never tell their family or friends.  Many are sound of mind and well-educated but they are perfect targets.

As people age, the body and mind lose a little bit each day. Scams and financial abuse happen to people of all ages, but seniors are very vulnerable.  Those who live alone are more vulnerable and widows and widowers are the most vulnerable.  Research states that women are targeted almost twice as much as men.

As those of us who work in the ‘senior space’ know abuse comes from the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside.’  The ‘inside’ includes family, caregivers, friends, neighbors, attorneys and financial advisers.  The ‘outside’ seems to be endless and rapidly growing.  It is primarily through mail and phone scams and much of it involves global organized crime.


I had a client whose great aunt was moving in with her parents as she was running out of money unexpectedly. I learned that the husband had recently died and his nephew from a prior marriage was now paying bills and not giving her bank statements.  They went to her bank where they learned the aunt’s social security check had not been deposited in seven months.  At the Social Security office they learned the payments were being direct-deposited into the account of the nephew.  Another client had given an unusually large amount in cash directly to a member of the clergy that never made it to the church.

Detection requires being aware of what is normal and diligently monitoring things to uncover irregularities.  Signs that something is amiss include:

  • Changes in spending habits
  • Reluctance or apprehension when asked about finances
  • Giving authorization to a special new friend, partner or newly on the scene family member
  • Sudden change of will, trust or beneficiary designations
  • Checks made out to cash or several trips to the bank to obtain cash
  • Disappearance of assets (collections, jewelry, securities)

The best way to protect your loved ones is to be involved, know the signs and take or help your loved one take action.  To do that, contact them often.  Don’t just ask them if things are OK, see for yourself.  If there are stacks of unopened mail and/or catalogs everywhere there is likely a problem.  Shred financial statements, medical documents and the name and address portion of all mail.  Try to get your loved ones to understand that giving information or money to strangers in person or over the phone puts then in great danger. Get recommendations for repair people, require identification before they enter the premises and when there is an appointment, have another trusted person there.  Get references for all caregivers, trainers, therapists, etc.  Request and review a free credit report every quarter (one from each of the credit agencies).  Itemize, photograph or video and safeguard valuables.  Make sure all legal documents are up to date and safely stored.  Have a copy of these documents in another location that is acceptable to the person.  Work with your loved one to put bills on automatic payment.  For bills that do not qualify (taxes, etc.) set a reminder system for you to help get them paid on time.  Assemble a trusted team that may include an attorney, accountant, financial adviser, daily money manager, care manager, nurse, depending on the individual situation.  We at The Seniors’ Answer are particularly concerned about the financial safety of seniors and are available to provide information and guidance to families.


I have written several times in the past about the most common phone and mail scams. If you would like to have that information please contact me.  Next month, I will be writing about junk mail and how to get off junk mail lists.