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Elder Financial Abuse: How to Identify and Protect Yourself and Others

By Ryan Kaiser, CFE, Assistant Fraud Risk Manager, Canandaigua National Bank & Trust

Elder financial abuse is a type of fraud which involves the misappropriation of financial resources belonging to an elder, within the context of a relationship where there is an expectation of trust and care. In other words, elder financial abuse happens when elderly individuals are preyed upon for financial gain. These schemes can range from simple theft in the form of unauthorized check cashing, to legal document abuse such as fraudulent transfer of Power of Attorney, to more complex schemes such as extortion.

According to the American Bankers Association (www.ABA.com), individuals over the age of 50 currently control 70% of the nation’s financial assets. This fact, combined with potential dependencies on others for care due to mental or physical impairments unfortunately creates vast opportunity for bad actors. The National Council on Aging (www.NCOA.com) states losses related to victims suffering from elder financial abuse total over $36 billion annually.

Sadly, the most common abusers in these cases are the adult children of victims, but abuse can also occur from senior care staff, extended family, or financial caregivers. Additionally, seniors are also being victimized by strangers they meet online, who secure their trust by showing romantic interest over the course of weeks or months, before asking the individual to send funds. Another very common scam, referred to as the grandparent scam, occurs when a fraudster will contact a victim and pretend to be a relative in immediate need of cash to resolve an emergency.

These schemes are often spotted by family or friends. The key is typically the identification of stark changes in behavior displayed on the part of the senior that is being victimized. Activity may include large, frequent, account withdrawals or inter-bank transfers which the victim cannot explain or legitimize. Other cases may involve the sudden closure or liquidation of retirement accounts without regard for penalties. Specifically in romance schemes, seniors will be asked to conduct uncharacteristic wire transfers to individuals living outside the local area. In more traditional elder financial abuse cases a family member, caretaker, relative, or new friend may suddenly be accompanying the senior at the bank, requesting financial transactions without proper authorization, documentation, or explanation.

Consider the following best practices to avoid becoming a victim - 

  • Safeguard items such as bank statements, personal identification, checkbooks, or other sensitive personal information and shred any unneeded financial documents.
  • Never sign any document you don’t understand; consult a trusted financial advisor or attorney.
  • If you receive a threatening phone call from someone you don’t know, do not engage.
  • If you receive a call from a ‘family member’ asking for money, disconnect and contact another relative to legitimize the story you’re being told, before taking any other action.
  • Never share personal information such as social security numbers, usernames, passwords, account numbers, or other financial information with anyone.

If you feel you have become a victim of a financial elder abuse scheme, consider the following avenues for next steps - 

  • Consult a neutral, trusted family member about the situation who has your best interests in mind.
  • Speak with an attorney, medical doctor, or contact your bank.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services or the local police to file a report.

Our team at CNB is ready to answer any questions you may have about current fraud scams. For current articles and resources, visit CNBank.com/Security.


This material provided by Ryan Kaiser.