Understanding and Addressing Elder Financial Abuse

Elder financial abuse can be a difficult subject to broach. Not only is it difficult to grasp a fraudster’s willingness to target some of the most vulnerable members of a community, but it can be hard to address the victim of fraud (or even attempted fraud) without causing undue embarrassment. At Central Bank, however, we know even uncomfortable conversations can be important, especially as they relate to issues that have the potential to jeopardize a person’s financial future.

In this post, we’ll delve into the intricacies of elder financial abuse, discussing what it is, the approaches fraudsters use to get their hands on what isn’t theirs, and what you can do if you believe someone you know has been a victim.


What is Financial Elder Abuse?
Financial elder abuse is a blanket term used to describe practices that target and exploit older adults. Although approaches may differ, fraudsters’ general goal is to gain access to the targeted individual’s finances or use their personal data for financial gain.

Perpetrators of financial elder abuse can include everyone from family members and trusted friends to caregivers, financial advisors or even strangers. New approaches to financial elder abuse are constantly emerging as technology evolves, but the following are among the most common forms of such fraud:

  • Identity Theft: This approach involves bad actors stealing an older individual's personal information to access their finances, open lines of credit or make fraudulent purchases.

  • Fraudulent Schemes & Scams: Here, scammers prey on seniors through means such as phone calls, emails or door-to-door solicitation. Fake charity requests, financial prizes that don’t exist and fraudulent investment opportunities are just a few of the excuses fraudsters use to trick people out of their money.

  • Coercion & Undue Influence: Through this path, trusted individuals manipulate or pressure elders into making financial decisions in the scammer’s best interests. This might involve factoring the scammer into their will, writing other individuals out of a will or granting the scammer power of attorney.     


Common Scams Making the Rounds Today
In understanding and protecting against elder financial abuse, it’s important to remember that many attacks draw from an individual’s vulnerabilities. Whether it’s loneliness stemming from the loss of a spouse, the desire to help a loved one in need or a simple unfamiliarity with modern technology, today’s most common scams seek to pull an individual out of their comfort zone to take advantage.

We’ve already discussed the basic approaches many fraudsters use. Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common scams targeting community members.

  • Tech Support Scams: Fraudsters reach out impersonating technical support agents, claiming the target’s computer is beset with a serious issue — often a virus — and offering to remedy the situation for a fee. They often request payment via gift card or wired money, as these methods are difficult to pin down or reverse once a transaction is complete.

  • Grandparent Scams: Scammers who have either gleaned information from places such as social media pages or made educated guesses make a phone call to their target, pretending to be a grandchild in distress. They might ask to be bailed out of jail, or for help following a traffic accident — and often hand the phone to a fake lawyer asking for payment. These calls are made all the more convincing through AI technology that can mimic a person’s voice or with the ability to make it appear as if the phone call is coming from a legitimate source.

  • Romance Scams: Perpetrators establish fake accounts through social media, message boards or dating apps, then befriend elderly individuals with the aim of establishing an online relationship. Once they’ve gained their trust and affection, requests for money often follow — or even complicated transactions that result in the targeted individual unwittingly aiding in money laundering.

  • Medicare and Health Insurance Fraud: Here, scammers pose as Medicare or insurance representatives with affordable insurance or products and services available. They might request a person’s personal information to get the application started, or payment to secure their spot in the nonexistent program.

  • Home Repair and Contractor Scams: Through this method, fraudulent contractors often carry out shoddy home repair work — work for which they then overcharge. Another common approach is for the contractor to require full payment upfront, before work begins, and disappear without ever providing service.


Tips for Spotting and Protecting Against Elderly Financial Abuse
Recognizing the warning signs of potential elderly financial abuse — and taking quick action when the situation calls for it — plays a crucial role in safeguarding those at risk. If you have friends, relatives or colleagues who might be susceptible to such fraud, be on the lookout for potential red flags. Those include:

  • Unexplained financial withdrawals or asset transfers

  • Reluctance or fear to discuss financial matters

  • Sudden changes in spending patterns or account holdings

  • New tendencies to isolate from friends and family — especially if a new acquaintance or caregiver has become overly involved in the individual’s finances

If you suspect someone you know has been a target of elderly financial abuse, immediate action is key.

  • Document the Evidence: Maintain detailed records with any information you believe might help law enforcement track the suspected fraudster(s) down. This can include everything from text or dating app conversation logs to financial transactions detailed in bank records and call logs that indicate where the scammer’s calls originated.

  • Report the Abuse: Reach out to local law enforcement, adult protective services or government agencies dedicated to fighting elder financial abuse. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) website offers a number of useful resources, while here in Texas, Harris County’s Senior Justice Assessment Center can also help elderly individuals suspected to be victims of crime, exploitation, abuse or neglect. The National Elder Fraud Hotline is also available by calling 833.FRAUD.11 (833.372.8311).

  • Seek Legal Advice from a Trusted Attorney: Consult with an attorney or firm that specializes in elder law to determine the best legal options for recovering assets lost due to fraud, or seeking protection orders for a relative who might find themselves falling victim again in the future.

  • Educate and Comfort the Victim: Anyone who’s fallen victim to a crime understands the embarrassment such situations can cause. Taking care to keep their feelings protected, talk through what exactly happened, how they were targeted and what they can do to avoid such instances in the future. Be understanding and try to avoid judgment. They likely already feel bad enough, and a calm head can help to make a bad situation better.

Elder financial abuse isn’t a comfortable topic, but it is an important one. The better educated we as a community are, the better able we are to protect those who came before us.

If you’re interested in learning more about spotting and stopping elder financial abuse, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a wealth of resources and information. Of course, your local bank is here to help, too. We have systems and safeguards in place to protect against fraudulent activity, and our team undergoes regular training to keep up with current trends. Feel free to reach out to our team at any time, with any questions you might have.