Seniors and fraud: how to recognize it and stop it

Senior Woman Giving Credit Card Details On The PhoneAccording to a recent article in Elder Law Answers, 70 percent of the nation’s wealth is controlled by people age 55 and older. Of course, as people get older they need help with day to day activities and finances can be one of those activities. That’s where the potential for fraud comes in.

Many times the perpetrators are people that the victim knows, such as an adult child, grandchild or employed caregiver. Signs that fraud is taking place include:

  • Property is sold or given away without warning.

  • The victim is forced to sign a power of attorney.

  • Valuable items like art or jewelry, go missing.

  • Unusual activity in bank or brokerage accounts such as sudden withdrawals, names added to accounts and checks made out to cash.

  • Signatures on documents that don’t resemble the victim’s signature.

  • A charming new friend or companion shows up and keeps family members away from the victim.

Of course, it isn’t always a familiar person that is the guilty party. A recent article in AARP Magazine featured an interview with a con artist who worked in the stereotypical telemarketing boiler rooms. He said that he targeted seniors for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks—because that’s where the money is.

Still, there are steps that can be taken to avoid becoming a victim of fraud:

  • Hang up if you get a sales call. You are under no obligation to listen to a sales pitch, since that person calling is not a friend or relative. Also, it is good to remember that they are calling at their convenience, not yours.

  • Place your phone number on the national Do Not Call list. This will reduce the number of sales calls that you receive. The website is and the phone number is 1-888-382-1222.

  • Have social security, pension proceeds and money from investments be deposited directly into a loved one’s bank account. Doing that lessens the likelihood that money will be taken when checks are cashed.

  • Check references of caregivers: conduct a thorough background check and even Google the caregiver’s name to see if anything questionable, such as a reference to drug or alcohol abuse, comes up.

  • Have more than one family member or friend spend time and be involved with an elderly loved one. More often than not, elderly fraud victims are isolated from family and friends. Having more than one person around is not only good for the morale of the loved one, it serves as a defense against fraud because more than one person is keeping an eye out for the loved one.

  • If health and mobility aren’t a problem, encourage that person to be involved in community or religious groups. This will help the person to be engaged in life, be less likely to feel alone or depressed, and be less of a target for scammers.

  • If something looks suspicious, say something. Mention missing items to a nursing home or home care supervisor, talk to a bank manager about an account that is rapidly losing money. Your suspicions may be unfounded, but if they are not, the sooner you act, the more likely you are to prevent someone from stealing a loved one’s hard earned money.

Fraud isn’t something that happens only to gullible people, it can happen to anyone. Recognizing the signs and being vigilant can go a long way to prevent fraud from happening to you or someone you care about.


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