Roughly 20 percent of older Americans fall prey to financial exploitation totaling $3 billion annually or an average of $120,000 per elderly victim, according to a study from the AARP Public Policy Institute. And given that only one out of every 44 financial abuse cases are reported, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association, true losses from elder financial abuse could be north of $35 billion annually.
As relationship lenders and financial first responders, community banks are in a unique position to help shield our elderly customers against these prevalent threats through employee training and the use of technology to spot red flags and report suspicious activity to authorities.
At Northwest Bank, our staff are on high alert and have a proven track record of catching nearly every instance of elder financial fraud. Still, these attempts continue to happen, so with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, we wanted to provide our nation’s seniors and their family members with tips to guard against financial exploitation.
Medicare/Health Insurance Scams
It is difficult to imagine that someone could prey on those in need of medical assistance, but unfortunately, Medicare fraud is all too common. Criminals are posing as Medicare or medical supply representatives to obtain personal information or provide bogus services and use the information to bill Medicare or assume an identity to perpetrate fraud.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has further spurred medical scams, with criminals purporting to be calling on behalf of a FEMA program that assists with funeral expenses. While this is a legitimate program, and you can reach out to FEMA to apply for these benefits, citizens should be mindful that:
- FEMA will not contact you until you call or apply for assistance.
- The government won’t ask you to pay anything to get this benefit.
As a good rule of thumb never share personal or financial information with anyone who contacts you out of the blue.
Zoom Phishing Emails and Internet Fraud
Con artists are also capitalizing on the rise in video meetings, registering thousands of fake Zoom-related internet domains to send phony emails, texts, or social media messages to trick consumers into clicking on bogus links to address “account suspension” or “meeting” notices. Those that took the bait inadvertently downloaded malware (malicious software) on their computer, exposing their personal information to potential use by fraudsters.
Internet scammers are also known for sending fake text messages alleging trouble with an internet account, credit card, bank account or shopping order. Many contain realistic looking logos to lure you into clicking on a link and divulging personal information.
To limit your exposure, avoid clicking on links from unsolicited emails or texts. If you suspect a problem with an account contact the bank or service provider directly.
Seniors schooled in etiquette may frown upon “hanging up the phone” or simply saying “no” to unsolicited calls, but it also leaves the door open to criminals posing as company representatives. Three notable examples include:
- The pigeon drop where con artists pretend to share found money in exchange for a “good faith” payment drawn from the contacted person’s bank account.
- The fake accident ploy where con artists create a false narrative that a loved one has been injured in an accident and needs money for medical expenses.
- Charity scams where con artists solicit funds on behalf of a charity for which they are not affiliated with or is not legit.
Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to give go directly to the source. And if you are worried about a friend or family member, verify the information with them directly.
Tips for curbing elder financial abuse:
- Secure private information (such as Social Security card, passport, bank account numbers, financial statements, medical records, and other legal documents), in a bank safety deposit box.
- Check your bank accounts and bill statements carefully. If you notice unauthorized charges or unusual activity, alert your bank immediately.
- Do not disclose personal information, such as bank account numbers or PINs, to anyone claiming to be from an established organization, especially if they ask you to wire funds.
- Ask Northwest Bank about available resources to help protect you or your loved ones from scams and exploitation.
- Plan ahead by giving a trusted person the legal authority to make financial decisions for you if you are unable. Make sure your bank has a record of who can manage your money on your behalf.
- Contact your local adult protective services agency and law enforcement if you have information about a fraud or suspect you may have encountered financial abuse.
Unfortunately, scams are always changing, making fraud nearly impossible to fully eradicate, but we’ll never stop looking out for your benefit and encourage you to consult the Federal Trade Commission’s “scam alert” page for information about the latest scams targeting consumers at consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.
Our Northwest Bank employees are trained on the latest fraud prevention techniques and are available as a resource as well. We can help you spot potential scams and take appropriate measures to protect your account if you suspect you have been a victim of financial fraud.