How to Shield Seniors Against Scams and Abuse

watch for these warning signs that an older adult is being exploited

Better Business Bureau

Seniors are often targets for financial exploitation via the Internet or telephone. (Photo via Pexels)
Seniors are often targets for financial exploitation via the Internet or telephone. (Photo via Pexels)

Like many of us, older adults are often targeted by con artists. Many victims don’t ask for help until it is too late. Help your friends, family, clients, or patients avoid fraud by knowing the signs of current or impending fraud.

Warning signs that fraud may occur

Frequent junk mail and spam calls. Incoming junk mail (illegitimate sweepstakes offers, etc.) or receiving frequent calls from people offering valuable rewards or asking for charitable donations are signs that fraud could easily occur or may have already occurred.

Unfamiliar payments are being made. Checks written or payments made to unfamiliar or out-of-state companies should be a red flag. 

Acting secretively about phone calls or messages. When an individual hides or acts secretively about phone calls and messages, it could signify that they have engaged a scammer.

Sudden problems paying bills or buying food and other necessities. A sudden lack of funds could mean that an individual’s money is being drained in some form of scam activity. The cause should be investigated to rule out fraud.

Tips for helping your loved one avoid fraud

Become familiar with common scams targeting older adults. Knowing the most common tactics used to target older adults can help you more easily identify when scams occur.

Emphasize the criminal nature of telemarketing and email fraud. Help your loved one learn how to identify it and help them understand that these tactics are illegal. In participating, it is possible they could be pulled into criminal activity unknowingly. 

Encourage the person to ignore phone calls and messages that appear suspicious. Don’t reply to, or click links within, emails or text messages that they are not familiar with. 

Have a calm discussion about securing accounts and monitoring finances. Helping older adults monitor their finances can be a great way to prevent scam activity and identify if it has occurred. 

Help the person change their phone number. If constant calls continue, it may be worth changing the person’s phone number. Registering the number with the Do Not Call list is a great first step, although scammers won’t necessarily follow the Do-Not-Call list laws. If unsafe calls continue, it may be best to change the phone number. 

Recognizing abuse against older adults

The most common types of abuse are physical, emotional, financial, and verbal. The National Council on Aging says up to 5 million older Americans are abused yearly, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion. The Better Business Bureau recommends that family, friends, and caregivers learn the signs of abuse or neglect in older adults. Business owners dealing in the industry can share these signs with employees. 

Signs of financial abuse or exploitation 

Lack of amenities the person could typically afford. A sudden problem with affording the basics, especially if the person was able to in the past (with no change in income), is a sign of financial abuse or exploitation. This could be at the hands of a family member, caregiver, or con artist. 

Giving excessive financial reimbursement or gifts for care and companionship. Care and companionship are necessary and can take a financial toll occasionally. But if care costs are draining an individual’s bank account, it’s time to investigate and re-assess. 

The caregiver controls the person’s money but fails to provide for their needs. A sure sign of financial exploitation is when a caregiver fails to provide adequate supplies, food, clothing, or other necessities to an older person. 

The caregiver is overly concerned about the person spending money. Caregivers should be concerned with an individual’s spending habits if it is damaging to their health or well-being, but normal daily spending should not be of concern to a caregiver. 

Unexpected or unexplainable property transfers such as a power of attorney or a new will. These can be especially concerning when the person in care is unable to comprehend the transaction or what it means. When in doubt, family and friends should look into these transactions carefully. 

Signs of psychological and emotional abuse

Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior. A drastic change in demeanor or a withdrawal from normal activities is a red flag that abuse may be present. 

Unexplained weight loss or appetite changes. If medical professionals can find no other cause, it may be worth investigating if abuse is the cause of a sudden change in weight or appetite.

The caregiver isolates the person from others. A caregiver should always be willing to help older individuals visit their loved ones and medical professionals. 

The caregiver is verbally aggressive, uncaring, or demeaning. Older adults deserve genuine care and compassion. Rude, dismissive, or aggressive behavior from a caretaker should be a red flag for the potential of abuse. 

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at, (414) 847-6000, or (800) 273-1002. 

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