Elder Abuse - Financial Fraud
The demographics of Lake County make us a target for financial abuse and fraud amongst our older population. Unfortunately, in banking, we see the worst of it.
The National Council on Aging reports that 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by the older person’s own family members. Usually their adult children are the ones taking advantage. Other times, the perpetrators are strangers preying upon older individuals who may be lonely, confused, desperate for cash or attention or intimidated.
Recently, in our local news, the worst one can imagine happened when an elderly woman befriended known criminals. Friends and neighbors tried to advise her to stop the relationship, but loneliness and confusion led her to continuing the association that tragically ended in her death.
Usually, money or other assets are the only things taken. But after someone has worked their lifetime to plan for retirement, loosing their savings is devastating.
We warn customers regularly about fake lottery scams and have saved them thousands of dollars. The lure of easy money can entice anyone, but the elderly are especially vulnerable. Customers are told they have won a foreign lottery and must send money to claim their winnings or are given a bad check to deposit but have to send a fee back. After the fee is sent, the check comes back as fraudulent and is charged against the customer’s account. The check for winnings never arrives.
Tellers and CSR’s try to warn and reason with customers telling them that it is a scam and if they haven’t played the “Canadian” lottery, they could not have won it.
One particularly heinous case has cost a customer hundreds of thousands of dollars. The scammers are from Jamaica and have been bold enough to pose as our customer on the phone asking for transfers and have given the victim scripting to use when bank staff questions requests for money transfers.
The scammers have had so many direct conversations with their victim that our customer has confidence in them in spite of continuous counseling from bank staff and a family member. Desperate to “win”, our customer is still sending money.
Other common schemes are:
- Telemarketing/phone scams. Trusting older persons make this scam easy. During this time of year, fake and threatening “IRS” calls, and sales of fake products trick the elderly into giving out credit card or account information.
- Funeral & cemetery scams. Scammers read the obituaries and make a claim of an outstanding debt of the deceased. Or, funeral expenses are prepaid but the money is long gone when needed.
- Counterfeit prescription drugs. Mostly an internet ploy, money is sent to purchase less expensive specialized drugs that are not effective or even harmful.
- Internet fraud. A pop up on ones computer tricks a consumer into either paying for a fake virus scan or launches a virus that costs thousands of dollars to cure.
- Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams. Equity of older person’s home makes them a target for fake tax bills and pressures of reverse mortgages.
- The grandparent scam. A frantic call for money from a supposed grandchild with a request not to tell their parents will drain a bank account.
- Romance scam. A new love interest suddenly wants to get married, asks to be added as an account signer or asks for money for a “desperate” situation.
Tips to protect yourself from the National Council on Aging are:
- Be aware that you are at risk.
- Don’t isolate yourself – stay involved.
- Never buy from (or give to) anyone who calls or visits unannounced.
- Shred all receipts with account and personal information.
- Sign up for the “Do Not Call” list (https://www.fldnc.com) and take yourself off multiple mailing lists.
- Never give your credit card, bank account, Social Security, Medicare or other personal information over the phone unless you placed the call and know with whom you are speaking.
- Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers and thoroughly do your research.
As family members, finding out your parent or loved one has been scammed can be frustrating, but since most elder abuse goes unreported because of embarrassment, be understanding and helpful. In order to help manage an aging family member’s finances, one must get a better understanding of their cash flow needs, bills, investment returns, estate plans and retirement benefits.
Contact with United Southern Bank’s Trust Department can also help you decide if financial management through our trust department is warranted.
Stay involved and interested and watch for these warning signs of financial abuse:
- Failure to pay bills when there should be adequate funds.
- Failure to buy food or medication.
- Large amounts of money withdrawn or transferred.
- Missing personal property or belongings.
- Isolation from family members either on their own or by a caregiver.
- An otherwise unrelated person who is suddenly the senior’s best friend.
If you or a family member is a victim of financial fraud, you should report the activity immediately, cancel credit cards, open new bank accounts, and call Eldercare at 800-677-1116 to locate help in your area.
Remember to keep a close watch on your family and friends who might be at risk.
Sources: ncoa.org; wiserwomen.org; eldercare.acl.gov
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