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Seniors and Scams

senior woman giving credit card information on phone
By Joseph Jones

5 minutes

How to talk to your members about safeguarding themselves and their loved ones

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Seniors lose around $2.9 billion every year to scammers, according to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. These unscrupulous fraudsters often use high-pressure sales pitches and sophisticated techniques to trick even the most educated seniors into becoming their victims.

As a representative of your credit union, the types of scams you may see are most likely financial in nature. In this article, we will discuss some of the more common scams targeting seniors and what you and your staff can do to inform your members and prevent them from becoming victims.

Common Financial Scams Targeting Seniors

Romance scams. Seniors, especially those who feel lonely or isolated, can be vulnerable to scammers, making them prime targets for romance scams. These occur when seniors befriend and strike up romantic connections with people they meet online, who then request money for any number of reasons. Seniors aged 60-69 who have been targets of romance scams lost an average of $6,688, and seniors aged 70-79 lost an average of $10,000. These scams result in the largest financial losses from scams targeting seniors.

Money transfer scams. Money transfer scams occur when scammers contact people and claim they have won a lottery or cash prize. They tell their targets that all they need to do to receive their winnings is to transfer money for processing fees and taxes.

Another version of this scam is the grandchild scam, which is when someone claiming to be the victim’s grandchild calls requesting money for a variety of reasons, including to pay for bail, hospital bills or travel expenses.        

Financial Elder Abuse

Anyone can experience abuse, and unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of older adults who are victims of elder abuse, according to the National Institute on Aging. Elder abuse can appear as physical, emotional or financial, as well as abuse through neglect or abandonment.

Seniors with disabilities or dementia are especially vulnerable because they may be more dependent on others for assistance with their daily activities, including handling their finances.

How to Talk with Your Members about Avoiding Scams

It’s important to train your staff to recognize the signs of financial abuse when engaging with your members. They should look for unusually large withdrawals, additional names on the member’s signature card, unauthorized ATM use, or sudden transfers of assets to a family member or other person. If you or your staff finds anything suspicious, there are ways you can address the issue tactfully with your senior members.

Encourage seniors to ask questions. Encourage your senior members to question any claims made by companies to determine the legitimacy of what the company is offering before spending money. Just because a product or service sounds great doesn’t mean that it is.

Verify the authority of support people. Ask questions about the family members or support people who have been accompanying them to the credit union to help them, such as whether or not they are authorized to do so.

Ask about confusing documents. Ask your senior members if they have been asked to sign any documents that they don’t understand.

Question unusually large withdrawals. If you notice sudden increases in withdrawals or checks written on seniors’ accounts, mention it to them and ask if they have authorized the transactions. If they are withdrawing a large sum of money, ask them if someone has requested this money, such as someone claiming to be a grandchild or someone from a lottery?

Encourage seniors to verify communications. It’s important to inform them how you will communicate with them. To avoid identity theft and unauthorized bank account or credit card use, seniors should make sure they are communicating with authorized personnel before discussing anything. Let them know that if they receive calls from people claiming to represent your institution, they should hang up and call your credit union for verification.

Communicate directly with senior members. When seniors come in with a family member or other person, make sure you communicate directly with your senior members. More than 90% of all elder abuse, including financial abuse, is inflicted by family members, according to the National Council on Aging. If family members or companions do all of the talking, that’s a red flag that something is wrong. If you sense suspicious activity, it’s important to speak with seniors privately, and if they don’t want to do so, you should have them speak with a manager or another person designated and trained to interview members about possible fraudulent activity.

Use non-threatening language. It’s important to use non-threatening language when discussing financial issues with seniors. Some seniors may be reluctant to admit that they have been victims of scams or financial abuse, due to shame, embarrassment or fear of retaliation. It’s important to frame your questions in a way that is non-threatening and doesn’t place blame on them or create unnecessary anxiety. Let your senior members know that this happens to many people, and they are not alone.

Encourage seniors to monitor their account activity. Encourage seniors to take an active role in monitoring their checking, savings and credit card accounts for signs of unauthorized activity.

Use fraud alert forms. Provide seniors with fraud alert forms that warn them about the potential for financial scams and the danger of carrying a large amount of cash. These forms should be used whenever any member requests an unusually large withdrawal.

There are many different types of scams targeting seniors, and as a representative of your credit union, there may be times when you suspect financial scams are occurring. Fortunately, there are red flags you can look for in determining if and when your senior members are being scammed. If you suspect your members are being targeted, there are specific things you can do and questions you can ask to find out more information and protect them from unscrupulous people.

Joseph Jones has been writing senior care and aging-related articles for years. He got his start while writing for a personal blog before he was offered to work at California Mobility in 2018 as the content marketing manager, creating highly informative guides and health awareness articles for aging adults. He’s currently contributing to a variety of blogs in the senior health industry in hopes to spread information about taking care of seniors and what to expect in the aging process.

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