Protecting Our Loved Ones From Elder Fraud

Elder fraud is on the rise, especially as scammers become more persistent as well as more sophisticated in their techniques.

Recent research suggests there many be a link between susceptibility to scams and dementia or Alzheimer's. Neuropsychologists at Rush University recently evaluated 935 seniors for scam awareness and looked at their brains over six years to determine if there is a link between believing scams and dementia or Alzheimer's. What they found is that there may be: 264 participants died during the study, and their brain autopsies revealed that those who were evaluated with a lower scam awareness did in fact have the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers also found that those patients who had a lower scam awareness at the beginning of the six years were more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer's later on.

The article states:

"The possible scam link isn't surprising, agreed Alzheimer's Association vice president Beth Kallmyer, who also said it needs more research. In fact, she said seniors may be reluctant to report fraud for fear family members might suspect they were sucked in because of health problems."

However, just because someone has a low scam awareness doesn't necessarily mean that they will develop dementia. It simply means that they may be more likely to do so. Further study is required, as noted in the New York Times article.

Common Scams and Prevention Tips

If you're assisting an older parent, grandparent, or other family member, set aside some time to educate them on how scam artists are currently targeting people. Depending on their age, our older adults may not be as aware of the common methods scammers are using now to dupe people.

Spam Phone Calls and Spoofing

One of the most popular (and most persistent) methods occurring right now is unsolicited phone calls. It's wise for older adults to simply not answer the phone if they don't recognize the number and allow the caller to leave a voicemail, if they leave one at all. There are some services that may help block scam calls and robocalls, but it's not a guarantee that these will work 100% of the time as scammers find new ways around the screens.

Part of unsolicited phone calls is the technique called spoofing, which has become a common problem over the last few years. With spoofing, scammers will "spoof" a known number from an individual or a business and on the caller ID, it seems that it's a legitimate number from your area. To get around this, add the phone number of family members, doctor's offices, etc. to your loved one's phone so that when these legitimate calls come through, they can tell that it's not a scam and it's safe to answer.

Text Messages

A related issue is spam text messages. Not all older adults will have a cell phone or will use text messages, but if they do, warn them about scam/spam texts. These are more annoying than they are sophisticated scams, but that doesn't mean they won't become more sophisticated or appear more legitimate in future. Again, there are some services available that could block spam numbers, but they aren't foolproof.

The IRS Called ... You've Won ...

The IRS does not call people to collect money. Prize promotions also generally don't call winners. These items are almost always in writing, delivered by mail or certified mail, and rarely by email or phone.

There was one instance in which a blogger did find a scam being perpetuated by mail, in which the fake company was attempting to collect money for website hosting with a fake invoice. However, the blogger was paying attention and realized that the invoice wasn't from his hosting company, and after a small amount of research, found it wasn't from a company at all. Mail scams are more expensive and less profitable these days because so many people simply trash any mail that isn't important. However, should anything come through the mail, an older adult may not be as on guard as that blogger.

Legal Protections

If you're concerned about an older family member losing everything to a scam, there may be some legal precautions you can take.

A trust could be established for the care of that person, and they will not have control of the funds but receive distributions for their care from the trustee. Using this method, they would not be able to hand over any funds to a scammer.

Also, if they have named a child or grandchild to an account and that person has access to monitor expenses, they can be on the lookout for any fraudulent or questionable items and ask the bank to place a hold on the transaction. This method is less preventative than establishing a trust, but would assist an older adult who is more independent.

If you have concerns about an older adult in your family falling prey to scams, talk to a doctor, mental health professional, or estate planning lawyer to obtain qualified advice for your particular situation.