Why Do Seniors Get Scammed by Family Members?

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The Detroit Free Press’ recent article entitled “Elderly getting scammed by their own family members — and one group wants to stop it” says that the average victim can lose $120,000 to financial exploitation, according to AARP research. Repeated, out-of-the-ordinary cash withdrawals are a big sign of exploitation and scams.

“People are literally being robbed every day through scams or financial exploitation from members of their own family,” said Debra Whitman, executive vice president and chief public policy officer at AARP.

As part of the battle, AARP has launched a new online training module for bank and credit union employees, who work with customers on the front lines, as a way to prevent financial exploitation.

Instances of elder financial abuse can increase during the holidays, because more family members and friends are around.

Financial exploitation has included abusing the relationship with an older relative or friend to force him or her into giving them a big portion of savings that’s in a bank or transferring property to someone else. It may begin with withdrawing just a few hundred dollars from a bank account and then build to repeated requests for more money. This type of exploitation may include misusing a power of attorney, denying an elderly person access to his or her own money and withdrawing money out of a senior’s bank account.

Many perpetrators are known to the victim, such as family members, caregivers, or other workers in the home. In addition to losing a life’s savings, seniors who are victims of scammers or loved ones can have a more rapid decline in health, because of the emotional stress from being a victim of financial abuse.

According to a report called “Suspicious Activity Reports on Financial Exploitation: Issues and Trends” released in February by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, older adults lost an average of $48,300, when the activity involved a checking or savings account. This type of suspicious activity on average, took place over a four-month period. Suspicious activity reports for elder financial exploitation quadrupled from 2013 to 2017. In 2017, this activity totaled 63,500 incidents. These reports may also be only a fraction of actual incidents, which may go unreported by victims.

AARP is promoting an online training effort called BankSafe that trains bank tellers and other front-line staff to take more direct action, when they suspect a case of financial exploitation. They are encouraged to ask the customer probing questions when they see a possible red flag and even mention the situation to a supervisor, who may be able to intervene.

AARP’s BankSafe pilot program was launched for six months at nearly 500 branches of banks and credit unions in 11 states. Nearly $1 million was protected when front line employees who participated in the pilot program intervened and stopped criminals from stealing money from the accounts of seniors. In some instances, the bank employee who stopped someone from being exploited, refused or delayed a suspicious transaction, put a hold on the account, or explained concerns to the customer who was a potential victim.

The average victim was a woman between 70 and 79 with less than $20,000 in her bank account, according to the new AARP research. The estimated cost of financial exploitation varies but may be more than $2.9 billion a year.

Reference: Detroit Free Press (October 16, 2019) “Elderly getting scammed by their own family members — and one group wants to stop it”