How to help senior loved ones protect themselves from financial abuse

An often-overlooked aspect of elder abuse is cybercrime — and it’s a problem that’s getting worse.

In 2020, the FBI reported a record amount of cybercrime complaints — nearly 800,000 — adding up to over $4.1 billion in losses. More than half of those losses were suffered by people aged 50 and older.

“The financial consequences are staggering,” said DJ Johnson, senior vice president of financial crimes risk management at Charles Schwab. “It’s something we all need to prioritize, dedicate resources to address and work closely on to prevent.”

The FBI data shows that, on average, Americans aged 50 and over lost nearly $5 million every single day, or nearly $3,500 per minute, to cybercriminals.

To protect your loved ones from financial cybercrime, the first step is awareness. What are the scams?

While fraud can come in many forms, some criminal schemes are targeted at the senior population, including:

  • Romance scam: Fraudsters present themselves as potential romantic partners online to exploit their targets’ desire for companionship — a desire that has grown for many who have felt isolated through the coronavirus pandemic — and eventually get access to their money.
  • Person in need scam: Criminals pretend to be a loved one (e.g., a grandchild) in immediate trouble and need of money right away.
  • Investment scam: Outreach with phony investment opportunities.
  • Fraud investigation scam: Criminals pose as law enforcement officials, asking for personal information or even money to help with their investigation.
  • Technology scam: Fraudsters appear to be a technology support team member or someone from a trusted financial institution asking for remote access to fix a fabricated technical or account issue.

Who are the perpetrators?

When we think of fraudsters, we tend to think of nameless, faceless people sitting in the dark, halfway around the world. In reality, a report by the Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans found that in 36% of cases, the victim knows the perpetrator personally.

This is why caregiving should be a group effort. Bring other loved ones into the conversation, instead of leaving it in the hands of just one person. Lean on the financial institutions you keep your money with to be an extra set of eyes and ears for you. For instance, at Charles Schwab, we have teams dedicated to identifying and dealing with fraud attempts.

How can caregivers protect senior loved ones?

For caregivers, if you’re worried about your loved ones, start with this checklist to protect them:

  • Talk about it. Have a conversation about common scams. Discuss your loved ones’ investment goals and attitudes toward money so that you can recognize irregular behavior.
  • Designate trusted contacts. Make sure financial institution reps know who to contact on your loved one’s behalf in the event of suspected exploitation, fraud or health issues.
  • Get organized. Locate and safely store important financial documents, such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, account statements, insurance policies and beneficiary designations.

Even after you put things in place for your loved ones, be vigilant:

  • Check in. Regularly review and update important financial documents.
  • Listen. Pay attention to what your loved ones are saying and listen for worrying key phrases, such as “people are asking me for money,” “my bills are confusing to me” and “I don’t understand financial decisions that someone else is making for me.”
  • Watch. Look out for red-flag behaviors, including unusual or unexplained financial activity, abrupt changes to documents, unpaid bills or mail piling up, new friends or sweethearts or confused behavior.

For more information on ways to educate and protect yourself and senior family members from fraudsters, visit schwab.com/schwabsafe/security-knowledge-center.

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