Financial Fitness

Protecting Seniors From Money Scams. What Can You Do About Them?

Know the keys to help protect seniors from financial abuse—and the simple actions you can take to help prevent it.

by Laura Quaglio - July 02, 2018

The risks of elder financial abuse are real—but it can be difficult to have the conversations that could prevent it. “Many families are more reluctant to talk about money than about the birds and the bees,” says Ron Long, director of Regulatory Affairs and Elder Client Initiatives for Wells Fargo Advisors. “But we have to have the money conversation with the seniors in our lives if we want to help them live a long and prosperous life.”

Despite this risk, the 2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey found that 98% of seniors and their kids agreed that older adults are more susceptible to money scams. So why do we still keep quiet? For about 25% of the adult kids, there’s a fear that this topic will cause conflict, while many of the seniors worry that over-planning for tomorrow will get in the way of their fun today.

Nothing could be further from the truth, says Long. In fact, results from the survey also suggest that having this conversation—and engaging in other types of investment planning—is linked to happiness. Here are a few tips for getting started.

Talk early and often.

“There’s no magic time to have this conversation,” says Long, though the best time is before any issues arise. “So do it now. Period.” Use the list below or the Wells Fargo Advisors Elder Financial Abuse Protection Guide to go over the signs of scamming, talk about anyone in your elder loved one’s life who has access to or interest in his or her money, and make sure bill-paying and other financial tasks are still easy for your loved one to do. After your first chat, have quick follow-up conversations every few months.

Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse: 1. Money-related changes such as sudden, atypical, or unexplained withdrawals or wire transfers; an increase in loan debt; cash-out refinances of large assets, such as real estate; changes in their estate plan or will that they seem not to understand fully. 2. People-related changes: New caregivers, friends, or sweethearts being brought to meetings; frequent, large gifts to caregivers or missing personal belongings. 3. Behavior changes such as being afraid, submissive, or withdrawn; disheveled appearance; forgetfulness

Be wary of your elders’ new friends.

Just as your parents wanted to know who you hung out with in high school, you should care to know who your loved ones’ friends are today. (Remind them it’s because you love them!) Be alert to odd activity with family, too. “We call it the Bad Report Card Syndrome,” says Long. “In 2/3 of cases of elder fraud, the responsible parties are 3 Fs and a C: Friends, Family, Fiduciaries, and Caregivers.” Most people in these roles are the good guys, but it’s smart to keep an eye out.

Talk to a pro.

If you’re seeing any warning signs, Long suggests asking your loved one if you can join them in meeting with their financial advisor. “The advisor will be happy to have this conversation,” says Long. “And it’s best to have it with parents and their children.”

The advisor will likely ask for a trusted point of contact to call in case of emergency, and they may go over other parts of your parents’ estate plans, such as financial power of attorney and who they want to be executor of their will.

See something? Say something.

Many older adults are afraid to speak up about abuse, so you may need to do it for them. If you think a loved one is being targeted, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website and click on your state to find local agencies that can assist you. If the situation is dangerous, call 911 or the local police right away.

Laura Quaglio is a writer and editor based in eastern Pennsylvania.

Image by iStock

Additional Resources

Find strategies for talking with elder parents about finances—as well as an Elder Financial Abuse Protection Guide—here.

Wells Fargo Advisors is not a tax or legal advisor.