Sally Balch Hurme has spent her entire professional career as an elder law attorney and consumer fraud expert, helping to educate and protect the public. Yet her husband fell victim to an impostor scheme. He received an urgent call from an "attorney" requesting that he send $3,000 to get his daughter out of a Los Angeles County jail.
For Hurme's husband, it was simple. "He really loves our daughter and wanted to help her," Hurme said. "He got caught up in the moment. The caller was adept at pushing buttons and convinced him of the emergency, the need to act promptly and the importance of not telling anybody."
While their daughter was safe at home in Virginia, teaching biology as she did every work day, Hurme's husband was instructed to rush to the bank to withdraw funds, rush to the store to get a prepaid card to wire cash and then race home to wait for a follow-up call. He did as he was told, reading to the caller the numbers off the prepaid card.
And just like that, $3,000 was gone forever. Although Hurme and her husband reported the theft, the cash card and the scammer's disposable phones could not be traced.
This scam is one of many that prey on the elderly, according to the National Council on Aging. Another variation of it known as "the grandparent scam" has been around since 2008. The FBI reports that it has recently gotten more sophisticated, with con artists scouring social media sites for personal information to make their scam more credible.
Sadly, 90 percent of elder fraud is committed by people who elders know and trust, usually their own family members, according to the NCOA.
"Financial abuse by close family members is the most common and devastating of all for older adults," says Hume. "Most frequently, the people exploiting them tell them something like, 'I can take care of you better than anyone else.'
"Such a person will often keep the victim isolated so no one knows when he or she has taken control of their senior's financial accounts. Regular communication alleviates suspicion among family members and does not allow anything to happen secretly."
Caregivers for elderly parents and relatives should be aware of the potential for this and other fraud targeting their loved ones. Here are some additional tips on preventing senior financial abuse:
- Be present in your relatives' lives and encourage them to stay socially connected with others. That makes it more difficult for would-be predators to act.
- To help older relatives avoid telephone scams, ask whether you can put their phone numbers on the national Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov.
- Set up a bill payment schedule and automatic bill paying. If your relative is showing signs of confusion or is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, consider becoming a cosigner, for his or her financial accounts.
- Ask your parents if they'd be willing to grant you power of attorney or guardianship before they become incapacitated.
- Help your loved ones get copies of their annual credit report, at Annualcreditreport.com to ensure they are not victims of identity theft.
- Keep an eye on the finances for any unusual spending sometimes a sign that a relative or new "friend" is preying on your loved one's generosity, according to Family Caregiver Alliance,
- If your relative receives bogus phone calls, Hurme's advice is "verify, verify, verify." Tell your loved one that if someone calls describing an emergency, take the time to independently verify this claim.
Guides to Preventing Financial Exploitation for Older Adults and Their Families. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/educational-resources/resources-for-older-adults/
Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors. National Council on Aging. https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/
Financial Abuse. National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. http://www.preventelderabuse.org/elderabuse/fin_abuse.html