The Older Americans Act defines elder financial exploitation as “the fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized or improper act or process of an individual that uses the resources of an older individual for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, or that results in depriving an older individual of rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings, or assets.” According to an analysis conducted by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, those over age 70 lost an average of $41,800 to elder financial exploitation between 2013 and 2017, which is a serious cause for concern. Therefore, older adults having awareness to common scams and fraud, as well as how to report, is imperative. Per the Illinois Adult Protective Services (APS) Act, financial exploitation means the misuse of or withholding of an eligible adult’s resources to the disadvantage of the eligible adult and/or the profit or advantage of another person. Although the APS program does not have jurisdiction to investigate allegations of financial exploitation perpetrated by persons who are unknown to adults who are eligible for services*, such as overseas scammers, there are ways to report and a vast number of resources available to adults who fall victim to scams and fraud. *Adults eligible for services in the APS Program include older adults 60 years of age or older and adults 18-59-years-old with a disability.
Listed below are common scams that target older adults, as well as descriptions of each scam and ways individuals can report. It’s important to note that this list is not inclusive of all the scams that target older adults. Any scam, fraud or exploitation of an adult aged 60 years and older can be reported to the National Elder Fraud Hotline at (833) 372-8311 who can triage the call and provide guidance and warm handoffs to the entities for which the fraud should be reported.
Scammers use pop-up messages, fake websites, or phone calls to trick you into thinking your computer has a serious problem. They obtain your money by having you pay for fake technical support or steal your personal/ financial information by gaining access to your computer.
Telephone scammers try to steal your money or personal information. Scams may come through phone calls from real people, robocalls, or text messages. Callers often make false promises, such as opportunities to buy products, invest your money, or receive free product trials. They may also offer you money through free grants and lotteries. Some scammers may call with threats of jail or lawsuits if you don’t pay them.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your Social Security number or other personal information to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund. You may not know you’re a victim of ID theft immediately, but you could be a victim if, for example, you receive bills for items you didn’t purchase, receive debt collection calls for accounts you didn’t open or receive denials for loan applications. ID theft can damage an individual’s credit status and can cost you valuable time and money.
Romance scams occur when scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and social media, often using stolen photos, with the goal of building trust and gaining the victims affection in order to obtain your money or personal/financial information. If someone you meet online requests your bank account information to deposit money, that person is most likely using your account to commit other theft and fraud schemes.
Medical ID theft occurs when someone steals personal information, such as your name and Medicare number, and uses the information to get medical treatment, prescription drugs, surgery, and/or services and then bills Medicare for it.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), charities and fundraisers use the phone, face-to-face contact, email, the internet, and mobile devices to solicit and obtain donations. Scammers use these same methods to take advantage of your goodwill. Regardless of how the scammer reaches you, be cautious of any charity or fundraiser that, for example, refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, costs and how the donation will be used.
If you are in need of additional assistance to address a scam situation, the Consumer Protection Division of the Illinois Attorney General’s office may be able to provide assistance. Although attorneys from the Attorney General’s office cannot represent an individual in a lawsuit, their limited mediation program can aid in resolving disputes or complaints filed by individual consumers. To seek assistance from the Attorney General’s office, complete the Consumer Complaint On-Line Submission Form.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) developed the Money Smart for Older Adults program to raise awareness among older adults and their caregivers on how to prevent elder financial exploitation and to encourage advance planning and informed decision-making. By participating in this educational program, participants will be better able to: 1) recognize and reduce the risk of elder financial exploitation; 2) guard against identity theft; 3) plan for possible loss of their ability to manage their finances; 4) prepare financially for disasters; and 5) find other helpful resources for managing their money and reporting financial exploitation. If you are interested in the Money Smart for Older Adults program and would like the program presented to your organizations participants, please contact Jamie Farrell, Aging and Disability Rights Coordinator at Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org.