Social isolation, whether because of a pandemic or because an elderly person is alone, is a leading factor contributing to the financial exploitation of seniors. The necessity of quarantining for older adults because of COVID has increased the number of people vulnerable to elder financial abuse, reports the article “Social Isolation and the Risk of Investment Fraud” from NASDAQ.com.
Financial abuse can take place at any time during a person’s life. However, scammers typically strike during times when seniors are more susceptible. It is usually during a health crisis, after the death of a loved one, or when younger family members live far away.
Scammers get information about their prospective victims by reading the obituaries and social media. They also become involved with senior social and support groups to ingratiate themselves into seniors’ lives.
Combine social isolation with lessening cognitive capacity and the situation is ripe for a scam. Senior investors are often flattered when their new-found friends praise their superior understanding of investment opportunities. Decreased judgment paired with a lifetime of savings is a welcome mat for thieves, especially when friends and family members are not able to visit and detect changes indicating that something bad is occurring.
Widowed or divorced seniors are more likely to be victimized. People who suffer from isolation, more and more often turn to the internet as a social outlet. Research shows that people are contacted by scammers through social media or pop-up messages on websites. Those who are dependent and engage more frequently in online life are more likely to engage with a scammer and lose more money than those who are targeted by phone or scamming emails.
How to protect yourself or your aging parents from elder abuse:
1. Scammers isolate their victims. Talk with family, friends, your estate planning attorney, or financial advisor before making any decisions.
2. Do your homework first. If you don’t know how to do an internet search to see if the website or the person is a scammer, talk with a family member or professional advisor who can. Don’t invest money unless you fully understand the risks and can verify the legitimacy of the offer and the company involved.
3. Educate yourself about finances and investments. This is a good project for people with too much time on their own. There are many worthwhile websites where you can learn about investments and finances. Look for well-known financial publishing companies.
4. Don’t be embarrassed to file a complaint. If you think you have been defrauded, you can file a complaint with the SEC, FINRA, and your state securities regulator. Your estate planning attorney will also know what resources you can tap to defend yourself.
5. Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse:
- A new “friend” who suddenly appears and tries to keep family and friends away.
- Someone who presses you to provide financial information and passwords to accounts.
- Fear or anxiety when a certain person calls or sends a text.
- Sudden and unexplained changes in estate planning documents or beneficiary designations.
- Anyone who asks for passwords to financial accounts.
Generally speaking, anyone who promises a high return with no risk is not telling the truth. The same goes for anyone who tells you that you need to act fast.
Seniors who are socially distant can stay in touch with family and friends through phone calls and if they can manage the devices, by video chat. Regular contact goes a long way in preventing strangers with bad intentions from insinuating themselves into your life or your parent’s lives.
Reference: NASDAQ.com (Feb. 11, 2021) “Social Isolation and the Risk of Investment Fraud”