BBB Tip: Protecting Older Adults from Scams, Abuse

Monday, September 11th, 2023

Like many of us, older adults are often targeted by con artists. Many victims don’t ask for help until it is too late! Help your friends, family, clients, or patients avoid fraud by knowing the signs of current or impending fraud.

Warning signs that fraud may occur

  • Frequent junk mail and spam calls. Incoming junk mail (illegitimate sweepstakes offers, etc.) or receiving frequent calls from people offering valuable rewards or asking for charitable donations are signs that fraud could easily occur or may have already occurred.

  • Unfamiliar payments are being made. Checks written or payments made to unfamiliar or out-of-state companies should be a red flag. 

  • Acting secretively about phone calls or messages. When someone hides or acts secretively about phone calls and messages, it could signify that they have engaged a scammer.

  • Sudden problems paying bills or buying food and other necessities. A sudden lack of funds could mean an individual's money is being drained in some form of scam activity. The cause should be investigated to rule out fraud.

Tips for helping your loved one avoid fraud

  • Become familiar with common scams targeting older adultsKnowing the most common tactics used to target older adults can help you more quickly identify when scams occur.

  • Emphasize the criminal nature of telemarketing and email fraud. Help your loved one learn how to identify it and help them understand that these tactics are illegal. In participating, it is possible they could be pulled into criminal activity unknowingly. 

  • Encourage the person to ignore phone calls and messages that appear suspicious. Don't reply to or click links within emails or text messages they are unfamiliar with. 

  • Have a calm discussion about securing accounts and monitoring finances. Helping older adults monitor their finances can be a great way to prevent scam activity and identify if it has occurred. 

  • Help the person change their phone number. If constant calls continue, changing the person's phone number may be worth changing.  Registering the number with the Do Not Call list is a great first step, although scammers won’t necessarily follow the Do-Not-Call list laws. If unsafe calls continue, it may be best to change the phone number. 

Recognizing abuse against older adults

The most common types of abuse are physical, emotional, financial, and verbal. The National Council on Aging says up to five million older Americans are abused yearly, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion. In Canada, over 10 percent of older adults are victims of crime, and some experience violent crimes or physical abuse.

BBB recommends that family, friends, and caregivers learn the signs of abuse or neglect in older adults. Business owners dealing in the industry can share these signs with employees. 

Signs of neglect

  • Lack of basic hygiene, adequate food, or clean and appropriate clothing. When basic needs are not being met for an individual in the care of another, neglect should be suspected. 

  • Missing medical aids or skipped doctor's appointments. Medical aids (glasses, walkers, hearing aids, medications) and regular physician visits are critical to a healthy and active life for older adults. If these things are absent or ignored, it could be a sign of neglect. 

  • The person is often unsupervised. Caregivers must supervise their patient or loved one, especially if the person requires additional assistance because of dementia or other disorders. The level of supervision may vary depending on the needs of the person in care, but in all cases, a lack of supervision could be a sign of neglect. 

  • The person is confined to a bed without regular care. Adults under medical or family supervision should be assisted in getting out of bed and moving around. Being confined to a bed can be detrimental to physical and mental health and is a sign of improper care. If an individual is bed-bound, they should still be repositioned and cleaned regularly. 

  • The home is overly cluttered, in disrepair, or fire and safety hazards are present. An unsafe home can be a sign of neglect and should be addressed due to safety hazards. Caregivers are tasked, in part, with creating a safe and healthy living environment.

  • A home without adequate facilities (stove, refrigerator, heating, cooling, plumbing, and electric). Regardless of age, everyone requires basic access to utilities and a temperate environment. If these facilities are missing, it could be a sign of neglect, or the person needs additional care and assistance. 

  • An untreated pressure sore (bed sores). Bed sores can happen as older adults become more immobile, but they are preventable with the proper care. Untreated sores are a sure sign that a person is not being cared for properly. 

Signs of financial abuse or exploitation 

  • Lack of amenities the person could typically afford. A sudden problem with affording the basics, especially if the person was able to in the past (with no change in income), is a sign of financial abuse or exploitation. This could be from a family member, caregiver, or con artist. 

  • Giving excessive financial reimbursement or gifts for care and companionship. Care and companionship are necessary and can take a financial toll occasionally. But if care costs drain an individual's bank account, it's time to investigate and re-assess. 

  • The caregiver controls the person’s money but fails to provide for their needs. A sure sign of financial exploitation is when a caregiver fails to provide an older person with adequate supplies, food, clothing, or other necessities. 

  • The caregiver is overly concerned about the person spending money. Caregivers should be concerned with an individual's spending habits if it is damaging to their health or well-being. Still, average daily spending should not be of concern to a caregiver. 

  • Unexpected or unexplainable property transfers such as a power of attorney or a new will. These can be especially concerning when the person in care cannot comprehend the transaction or what it means. When in doubt, family and friends should look into these transactions carefully. 

Signs of psychological and emotional abuse

  • Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior. A drastic change in demeanor or a withdrawal from normal activities is a red flag that abuse may be present. 

  • Unexplained weight loss or appetite changes. If medical professionals can find no other cause, it may be worth investigating if abuse is the cause of a sudden change in weight or appetite.

  • The caregiver isolates the person from others. A caregiver should always be willing to help older individuals visit their loved ones and medical professionals. 

  • The caregiver is verbally aggressive, uncaring, or demeaning. Older adults deserve genuine care and compassion. Rude, dismissive, or aggressive behavior from a caretaker should be a red flag for potential abuse. 

Signs of physical abuse 

  • Inadequately explained fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores, or burns. Frequent and unexplained injuries are concerning, especially if the individual under care cannot recall daily events easily. 

  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases. STDs and STIs in older adults under professional care could indicate sexual abuse and warrant an investigation to find the root cause.