We have long known that seniors are more vulnerable to financial abuse. The COVID pandemic has only amplified this problem due to the increased social isolation and stress it has wrought. Perpetrators look for opportunities when their victims are most vulnerable. The death or incapacity of a spouse, health challenges, diminished capacity, and social isolation all increase susceptibility to fraud and exploitation. Unfortunately, this pandemic has increased each of these risk factors.
Seniors in Isolation Due to COVID
As we all have less social contact, many seniors are increasingly turning to technology as a social outlet. Individuals who knew to limit phone interactions with potential scammers may find themselves willing to engage in conversations just to have some personal contact. In addition, seniors are increasingly using online shopping and banking but may not have the technology savvy to protect themselves. In addition, criminals are quite adept at mining obituaries and social media to gather information to target their victims.
Families can ameliorate these factors by remaining as connected as possible with their loved ones. Whether through phone, email, or Zoom, nothing beats direct communication to alleviate isolation. You can also educate yourself about the latest scams and share that information with older family members. Research has shown that individuals who have heard about a scam are substantially less likely to fall victim to it.
Vulnerability to Fraud and Exploitation
There are many common warning signs that an individual is vulnerable to, or a victim of, financial exploitation:
- A new or quickly intensified relationship with a family member, friend, or caregiver
- Increased dependence on that individual to handle tasks the senior previously handled independently
- New suspicions or paranoia about a close loved one the senior always trusted in the past
- Increased voluntary isolation from family (i.e., change in communication level or patterns)
- Sudden or unexplained changes in spending habits, accounts, or financial institutions
- Unexplained checks, transfers, or credit card use
- Missing checks, statements, or other financial records
- A lack of knowledge about their own finances or inability or unwillingness to explain the changes described above
If your loved ones show any of these signs, you may wish to discuss these changes with them. But, be aware that overly confrontational tactics can backfire, as the perpetrator often primes the victim to be suspicious of family members and fosters paranoia that the family wants to control, abuse, or institutionalize the older adult. Professional help may be needed to determine the best way to help a senior without further alienating them. If you have any questions about this post or any other elder care and special needs law matters, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.