Financial fraud against the elderly can have devastating consequences: the loss of everything an older adult has worked for over a lifetime along with their financial independence. Unfortunately, it’s also a rapidly growing crime, both nationwide as well as in Southwest and Central Virginia. If you have older loved ones in your family, be sure to read these prevention tips from the Member One Fraud Team.
A:Fraudsters commonly target older adults with email/phishing attempts to obtain sensitive financial information, fraudulent charities or lotteries, IRS scams and romance scams (especially online). It’s common for fraudsters to connect with an elderly target through social media or online dating/networking sites. Older adults who are widowed, divorced or otherwise likely to be lonely are typically seen as especially vulnerable.
A: If you have access to your loved one’s bank and/or credit card statements, you may see evidence such as an abnormally low account balance, large and unexplained withdrawals, maxed out credit or multiple new credit lines being opened. Your loved one might suddenly have trouble covering bills, and valuables or other items might start disappearing from their home. You might simply notice changes in their demeanor and get a “gut feeling” that something is amiss.
In some cases, your loved one may tell you they’ve begun a relationship with someone they met online – and such a revelation always should be met with questions. Do your own research and attempt to verify whether what your loved one is being told by this person is true. If the person has claimed to be “in the military” and in need of financial support, or has asked your loved one to wire funds or to ship/mail anything to a third party or foreign country, you should immediately consider it a red flag.
A: Contact your loved one’s financial institution(s) immediately to report the suspected fraud. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to change your loved one’s online banking credentials, cancel their debit and/or credit cards, place a warning on their accounts or even shut down the affected accounts. You also might decide to have a freeze placed on their credit.
Financial fraud should be reported to your local police department, and you also might wish to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center. For support and guidance, contact your local branch of Adult Protective Services.
A: Of course, the best way to deal with elder financial fraud is to stop it beforeit starts – and fortunately, there are ways to help you do that. Talk with your loved one’s credit union or bank to find out what methods of fraud protection they offer and recommend (for example, placing fraud alerts on accounts). In some cases, it may make sense to add a trusted joint owner to your family member’s accounts.
Ask your loved one to request their free annual credit report and carefully review it with them, looking for anything that seems suspicious. Help your loved one shred any unnecessary documents containing sensitive information (think bank statements, junk mail credit offers, etc.), and make sure they keep checkbooks, unused credit or debit cards, and sensitive personal documents hidden away securely when not in use. Have regular discussions about the types of information they’re sharing online, and advise them to be wary of beginning relationships with anyone they’ve never met in person.
It’s also a good idea to speak with a trusted attorney or financial advisor for suggestions personalized to your family’s financial situation. And above all, trust your instincts. If something raises your suspicions, don’t hesitate to ask and take action!