Financial scams: What you need to know to protect your loved ones.
Anyone can be fooled by scam artists. According to the National Council on Aging, scams targeting older adults are on the rise — in fact, in 2021, there were over 92,000 older victims of fraud, resulting in $1.7 billion in losses. That figure is sometimes disputed, with other estimates being $3 billion or even up to $36.5 billion. Regardless of the amount, it’s critical to know what to look for to protect your loved ones from becoming part of the statistic.
“It’s not just one type of scam,” says Constance Moore, client care specialist at Commerce Trust. “There are IRS scams, romantic scams, Social Security scams — the list goes on and on. If one can imagine it, there’s probably a scammer out there using it to taking advantage of people.
As our loved ones age, we want to protect them in any way possible. All too frequently, however, scammers and hackers are one step ahead.
“It’s so important to be vigilant and aware of what personal information you’re putting out there,” Moore said.
Here’s what to keep an eye out for if you suspect your loved one is being targeted by financial scammers — and what you can do about it.
An open dialogue is key.
First and foremost, an open line of communication is essential.
“It’s important to start talking with your family members and have an open line of communication,” Moore said. “You can approach the subject by commenting on an article you recently read in the paper, or something similar, but you want to make sure to be patient and empathetic when you bring the topic up.”
That’s because often victims of scams — or those being targeted — feel a sense of shame, or they might be embarrassed to reach out for help.
“If you get scammed, of course it’s heartbreaking,” Moore said. “But it doesn’t mean that you’re less of a person. It doesn’t mean that you’re stupid. It just means there was someone out there that was better at being bad.”
Financial scams often go unreported and can be tough to prosecute, but they can be devastating and leave your loved one in a vulnerable position with limited ability to recover their losses. Consumer Reports claims only one in 44 victims actually end up reporting the crime.
“Sometimes it can be hard to see the trees when you’re in the middle of the forest,” Moore said. “Be patient and understanding with your loved ones, who can often feel isolated. And make sure to keep an eye out for warning signs that something is going on.”
What to do if you suspect your loved one is a victim of financial scams.
Your loved one may feel ashamed or embarrassed if they have been a victim of a financial scam, but there are signs to look out for when attempting to prevent it from happening in the first place.
“You might notice that there’s money missing from their checkbook or bank account, for example,” Moore said. “Maybe their behavior has been a little bit off, or they’re trying to hide information more so than normal.”
If you’re concerned for someone, make sure to approach the subject in a respectful manner, and avoid being condescending. It can often be frustrating if your loved one has been taken advantage of, but it’s important to not take that frustration out on them.
“You need to approach it like ‘we’re in this together,’” Moore said. “You’re there to help, but it’s important to take immediate action.”
Call your loved one’s bank, credit card companies to change passwords, notify authorities if money is missing, and request new cards if needed. You can also call the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — and have your loved one’s credit frozen so no one can open a new account in their name.
“One thing most fraudsters attempt to do is make you act quickly,” Moore said. “They’ll try to convince you it’s an emergency and you need to take an immediate action. That’s just not the case.”
Moore suggests coming up with a family password to differentiate between when something is an actual emergency or when something is a potential scam. And pay attention to the caller ID when the phone rings — if you don’t know the number, it’s okay to not answer. Most companies will leave a message if there’s something you need to address in a timely manner.
“That phone call is not important,” Moore said. “And if it is, they will leave you a message and you have the option to call them back.”
“The most important thing is to remember to empathize with your loved one,” Moore said. “Sometimes adult children can get frustrated with a parent as they age, but remember to think of how you would feel if you were in their shoes.”
Scam artists are not only smart, they’re persistent.
“They don’t have the emotions you and I have,” Moore said. “Once they get their fingers on you, they’re not going to let go if you’ve already given them money. They have a good deal, and they’ll keep being persistent to keep the gravy train going.”
That’s why it’s so important to know the signs to look out for and be proactive in helping your loved ones as they age.
“Act quickly, communicate with family members, and call the police department when appropriate,” Moore said. “You can call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the National Elder Fraud Hotline in addition to your banks and credit card companies to report fraudulent activity.”
At the end of the day, awareness is key. The more communication you have with your loved ones, the better equipped you and they will be on avoiding being a victim of financial scams.
“The more you talk about it, the more vigilant you can be about identifying when something doesn’t seem right,” Moore said. “It’s okay to pause, take a breath and research before making a decision.”
The opinions and other information in the commentary are provided as of July 1, 2023. This summary is intended to provide general information only, and may be of value to the reader and audience.
Commerce Trust is a division of Commerce Bank.
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