Picture of Donna Harlow

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released a report on the alarming increase of Elder Financial Exploitation (EFE). In 2017, banks reported 63,500 cases of suspected financial fraud targeting senior adults, quadruple the number in 2013. Because EFE is greatly under-reported, this same report estimates that actual incidents of EFE were likely closer to 3.5 million that year.

The impact to senior adults, who may already be on limited income, is significant. A CFPB study of 180,000 EFE reports shows an average loss of $41,800 among adults over 70. Yet, seniors may not even report that they have been a victim for several reasons, including:

  • Not being aware of how to report
  • Blaming themselves
  • Denial
  • Fear of not being believed
  • Fear of loss of independence
  • Shame and embarrassment
  • Protecting the abuser, who may be a family member or trusted friend

Reporting these crimes is an important step in stopping the fraudsters. If your loved one has fallen victim to EFE, there are several steps you should take to protect them and others from future incidents. First, always report the crime to law enforcement. If you aren’t sure how to report it, call 911.

Beyond reporting the crime, it’s important to be familiar with different types of financial exploitation to protect your loved one going forward. Here are steps you should take to prevent and/or report certain types of fraud.

Identity Theft (ID Theft)

Fraudsters have many ways of stealing someone's personal information and using it to open a credit card, conduct banking transactions, apply for a loan, etc. If your loved one is the victim of ID Theft, you should:

  • Obtain a copy of the police report – After you or your loved one file a police report, you should get a copy of the report. This will help you to provide proof that your loved one was a victim of ID theft. You can use the copy of the police report to report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Freeze your credit – Contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) to freeze your loved one’s credit. This will stop anyone from opening credit in his or her name. When you do this, you will have to release the freeze temporarily if your loved one applies for new credit. 

Technology Scams

Spoofed emails, pop-up messages, phishing messages through email or social media, and computer/software/security protection scams are all examples of Technology Scams. Fraudsters attempt to “hack” a victim’s computer and access personal information or bank account information. This scam is often targeted at senior adults.

Here’s what you can do if you believe your loved one was a victim of a technology scam:
  • Report – Computer related crimes can be reported through the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Consider reporting to your loved one’s financial institution if you believe his or her computer has been compromised.
  • Disconnect – Immediately turn off your loved one’s computer and disconnect from the Internet if an outsider gained physical or remote access to his or her computer. Do not use the computer until you have had it professionally scanned and cleaned by taking it to a reputable professional. Do not purchase “security” packages through the Internet.

Service Scams

A service scam is the result of a fraudster selling a service - home repairs, clean up, maintenance and so on. They take money but do not provide the service.

  • Report – Contact local law enforcement and report the crime. They may be able to recover your loved one’s money and work to shut down the fraud to prevent others in your community from becoming a victim.
  • Vet potential service providers – Going forward, help your loved one find local, reputable businesses to help with service projects. Consider calling the Better Business Bureau and check with them before hiring. Pay with a credit card – it’s easier to stop or dispute a transaction from a credit card than a debit card or check.

Friendly Fraud

Typically friendly fraud involves an acquaintance, family member or friend utilizing the relationship to commit fraud. Oftentimes the fraudster will gain the senior’s trust and convince them to sign documents such as a Power of Attorney, deed or other legal documents of authority.

  • Report – If you suspect someone is taking advantage of your loved one (or already has), contact local law enforcement and report the crime. Your county’s Adult Protective Services may intervene if you believe a senior needs assistance.
  • Help them plan their estate – Talk with your loved one about the importance of early planning. They need to designate someone they trust to assist with financial matters, for when they are no longer able to do so themselves. Many counties and states offer free assistance through legal aid society and legal assistance programs.
  • Seek legal advice – If your loved one gave authority to an individual you believe is taking advantage, you may need to seek legal assistance to revoke those documents.

Reporting criminal activity related to EFE is essential in stopping fraudsters from taking advantage of our aging loved ones. Talking about issues related to criminal activity is the first step in helping to stop it.

Schedule a Money Safety for Seniors Workshop.

Learn how to detect, protect against and report the financial exploitation of seniors. Old National offers this course to community groups at no cost.

Donna is a Senior Loss Prevention Analyst, CFE and part of the Fraud Prevention and Investigations Department at Old National. This group is responsible for investigating and responding to bank-related fraud situations, as well as training and educating associates and clients about fraud.

This content is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice or indicate the suitability of any product or service for your unique circumstances. You are encouraged to consult with a qualified legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professional based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.