As the population of people aged 65+ continues to increase exponentially each year and Baby Boomers enter their elder years, so too do the instances of financial exploitation and elder fraud. During the last census, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that around 17.7% of Montana’s population is over the age of 65, and that number is increasing, making older Montanans ripe targets for scams, fraud, and financial abuses.
What can you do?
Knowing these common forms of elder fraud and financial exploitation—and how to guard against them—may significantly reduce the risk of you or someone you love falling victim to financial abuse.
- Charity fraud. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million non-profit organizations are registered in the United States. There might be just as many fraudulent charities, although we’ll never know for sure. And even when they are registered, not all charities are created equal. In a time when compassion requests are at an all-time high for disaster and injury victims, elder fraud is also on the rise.
- Prescription fraud. With programs like Medicare and Medicaid in constant flux and the price of prescription drugs continuously on the rise, many seniors are targeted by online, television, telephone and mail programs that promise access to discounted and cheaper prescriptions. Prescription fraud not only gives thieves access to credit, debit, and bank account information, but it can also result in serious medical conditions if the substituted prescription drugs turn out to be fake.
- Phishing and other email fraud. Phishing scams aren’t limited to the elderly, but elder fraud stories are rife with tales of woe about stranded family members, bank account information needing to be verified, computer updates, and more. Clicking on links in these emails can allow the installation of information-stealing viruses. And giving out information through these types of emails can lead to serious financial harm, without the victim ever realizing what is happening.
- Family or caretaker fraud. Unfortunately, when it comes to elder fraud, the culprit is not always a stranger. Often, trusted family members or caretakers with access to an elderly loved one’s credit or bank accounts may help themselves to an extra payday. In some cases, seniors are threatened, physically abused, or otherwise coerced into making transactions on behalf of their financial exploiters.
Stop elder fraud now
Knowing what to look for when it comes to elder fraud is only half of the solution. You also have to know what to do to make it stop. Some of the best defenses against fraud and exploitation of the elderly are right at home in your own community.
- Balance your checkbook regularly. In the age of digital…everything, it’s easy to “let it go” when it comes to balancing your checkbook by hand. But even going through your transactions online every week can help you quickly identify anomalies in your checking and credit accounts.
- Double check the legitimacy of businesses, charities, and prescription companies before providing your banking or credit account information.
- Engage family and neighbors to look out for your best interests. As we age, the number of service providers and bills in our lives increase. Having a second set of eyes on your bills and expenses can help identify elder fraud more quickly.
- Talk to your credit union representatives more frequently. Local credit union employees are your neighbors, friends, and a friendly resource. When they get to know you on a more personal level, they can spot anomalies in your accounts or behavior and help you make the right decisions about your finances. They can most likely even help you get to the bottom of potential elder fraud much more quickly than you could on your own.
For every solution to elder fraud, another fraudster is coming up with a different new form of financial exploitation scheme somewhere nearby. But dealing with these issues doesn’t have to be difficult, and you don’t have to do it on your own. Learning to recognize red flags, protecting your assets, and knowing when to reach out to your trusted credit union and financial advisors for help are key to keeping your money where it belongs – with you and your loved ones.