Addressing elder financial exploitation during holidays

The holidays are a great time to reconnect with our loved ones, and a great opportunity to make sure that our more vulnerable family members are safe from fraud and scams.

Federal data suggest that losses from elder financial abuse perpetrated by a known person are greater than when fraud is perpetrated by anonymous scammers. Far too many families find out about financial abuse too late and regret not seeing the signs or asking more questions. The Federal Trade Commission said that in 2021, people lost a record $5.8 billion to a range of schemes, a 70% increase over the previous year.

Financial abuse is one of the more common ways older people are targeted.

With older adults, sudden mood changes, either depression or excitement, could be signs that something is amiss. Holiday gatherings also provide an opportunity to talk about financial exploitation with our loved ones and discuss what they can do or are doing to protect themselves and their money.

In November, Paul Greenwood, retired Deputy District Attorney from San Diego, Calif., and an AARP ambassador, held a telephone town hall with AARP North Dakota addressing some of the exploitation he helped address during his time heading up the Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit at the San Diego DA’s Office, and in the years since. You can watch a recording of that event here: https://www.facebook.com/AARPND/videos/3079852768827034.

While all age groups are vulnerable, Greenwood says that the financial hit from romance scams is especially prevalent among older Americans. The isolation and increased internet access of the pandemic provided more opportunity for criminals to gain the affection and trust of their targets.

When people are targets of financial fraud – whether romance related or not – they tend to feel ashamed which inhibits them from reporting the crime to authorities. Greenwood strongly encourages reporting financial fraud.

“People think it’s pointless to report, that they can’t get their money back, but that has changed.” Greenwood says it’s now possible to trace where money goes and indict criminals even when they are overseas. Additionally, reporting helps convince elected officials of the need for the crime prevention tools and resources that can target financial abuse.

During the holidays, look for some of the telltale signs of elder financial abuse — and possibly prevent it from happening to you or someone you love.

Unusual financial activity — A major red flag of potential financial abuse is unexplained activity on their accounts. Ask about large withdrawals and unpaid bills and make sure there are no questionable credit card charges.

New ‘friends’ or helpers — Individuals who live alone are particularly susceptible to financial exploitation. Wrongdoers can more readily hide their misdeeds if no one else is around.

Cognitive decline or loss of financial acumen — If an older person has known cognitive impairments or is beginning to show a loss of financial acumen, a designated family member or other trusted individual may need to immediately step in to help.

Most importantly, respect the right for your older loved ones to make their own decisions as they are cognitively able, but leave the lines of communication open.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for all. Learn how to proactively spot scams or get guidance if you’ve been targeted. Visit www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call our dedicated helpline to speak to a fraud specialist at 1-877-908-3360.


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