June is World Elder Abuse Awareness month, which reminds us all of the need to protect older adults from abuse, neglect and financial fraud. According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 10 Americans age 60 and older experiences some form of abuse over the course of a year.
One of the fastest-growing forms of elder abuse is financial abuse. Older adults are often the targets of scams as well as financial exploitation and theft. While financial elder abuse can happen to anyone, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming a victim.
Let's look at some of the common scams targeting older adults — including recent COVID-19-related fraud attempts — and how to prevent them.
Power of Attorney Scams
Many scams targeting the elderly involve relatives, friends or acquaintances of the older adult who have been granted power of attorney. The individual with power of attorney may misuse their power to secretly steal money or assets from the elderly's accounts for personal gain. This type of fraud may also include forging an older adult's name on the power of attorney document or coercing them into signing against their wishes.
To help you determine if abuse is happening, here are some questions to ask your loved one:
- Who are you spending time with lately? The sudden presence of a new “best friend" could be a red flag.
- How are you managing your money? Unusual spending patterns or large withdrawals can be a sign of fraud.
- Are you paying bills on time? Unopened mail or utilities being turned off indicate financial trouble.
- Has anyone pressured you to sign papers? Scammers may rush older adults into signing legal documents or contracts they haven't read or don't fully understand.
- Has anyone prevented you from being with friends or family? Social isolation and loneliness can make older adults more susceptible to financial abuse.
At Wright-Patt Credit Union (WPCU), we pay attention to elderly members' check-writing habits and account activity to look for changes in their normal patterns, which could be a sign of power of attorney abuse. Concerned family members can follow the same practice. If you suspect something is wrong, don't hesitate to speak up.
COVID-19 Phishing Scams
During the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercriminals have been sending phishing emails designed to look like they're from the IRS, CDC and other agencies. These emails may claim to provide extra coronavirus relief payments or cash grants in exchange for personal information, like your Social Security number, account information or passwords. The emails may also include malicious links or attachments with “medical advice." To spot a phishing email, look for typos, poor grammar and unfamiliar email addresses. Do not reply to these messages or requests for personal information — they are fraudulent!
Unfortunately, emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic provide opportunities for scammers to pose as charities and ask for donations. Before donating, research the organization to make sure your money is going to the right place. Don't let anyone rush you into making a donation. A legitimate charity will never pressure you for an immediate donation.
If you suspect elder financial abuse, use the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging that connects older adults and their families to local services. To report any type of scam, visit ftc.gov/complaint.
WPCU is here to help you protect your personal and financial information and avoid becoming a victim of fraud. We have the tips, tools and resources you need to keep your money and information safe. For more fraud prevention tips, visit WPCU.coop/StopFraud.