Unfortunately, elder fraud hits close to home for me. After my mother’s passing, I found myself stepping into a new role – becoming the primary caregiver for her older brother, my uncle, and taking charge of his finances and healthcare. What unfolded was a stark realization that he was falling victim to exploitation. Without delving into the grim details, I discovered a network of so-called ‘friends’ treating him as their personal financial reservoir. From supporting their dubious ‘roofing business’ to funding car repairs and even providing them free residence in his lake house—the list seemed endless.
Navigating the complex landscape of elder fraud can be daunting, especially when it comes to the digital realm. As someone who stepped into the role of managing an aging loved one’s finances, I’ve witnessed firsthand the vulnerability that our aging loved ones can face.
Elder Fraud Unveiled
Elder financial exploitation (EFE) is a pressing concern, encompassing both theft by trusted individuals and scams by strangers. Here’s a high-level overview of elder fraud in a glance:
Elder Theft: Schemes involving the theft of an older adult’s assets, funds, or income by a trusted person.
Elder Scams: Scams involving the transfer of money to a stranger or imposter for a promised benefit or good that the older adult did not receive.
A recent AARP report reveals staggering figures – an estimated $28.3 billion is stolen from U.S. adults over 60 each year, with a significant portion being perpetrated by known individuals like friends, family, or caregivers.
Following personal experiences in managing a relative’s affairs, helping clients preemptively organize their own legacy affairs and serving as a quarterback for executors as the founder of AfterLight, I’ve come to understand the necessity of proactive measures in safeguarding against elder fraud and theft.
Digital Defenses Against Fraud:
- To combat the rising tide of elder fraud, particularly in the digital landscape, a strategic approach is essential:
- Initiate open conversations within the family. Discuss red flags, stay informed about current scams, and establish a system for regular check-ins. Encourage elders to report any suspicious calls or emails promptly.
- Leverage credit freezes, call-blocking technologies, and adherence to the Do Not Call Registry. Implement strict privacy controls on social media platforms, install reliable antivirus software, and develop a scripted response to potential scams.
Ghosting: Deceased Identity Theft
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but fraud can not only take place while you’re alive, but also after you’ve died. Ghosting, a form of identity theft where scammers exploit the personal information of deceased individuals, poses another significant challenge. Here’s how to mitigate the risk:
- Limit sensitive details in obituaries, such as birthplace, addresses, and mother’s maiden names. Consider excluding survivors’ names to reduce the risk of being targeted.
Digital Defenses Redux:
- Utilize online planning tools offered by platforms like Facebook, Apple, and Google to manage digital assets and account access after death.
Holistic Estate Planning:
- Encouraging estate planning exercises, including awareness of existing documents, establishing a financial power of attorney, and appointing trusted contacts, adds an additional layer of protection.
Wrangling Your Digital Assets
One of the crucial steps in safeguarding against elder fraud is the audit and organization of digital assets:
- Implement two-factor authentication (2FA) to create strong and unique passwords, and consider using a password manager (Examples: Dashlane, Bitwarden, LastPass, etc). Educate loved ones (as well as yourselves!) on the importance of secure password practices.
- Categorize your digital assets, including online accounts, digital media, health records, subscriptions, cryptocurrency, and more. A comprehensive approach ensures nothing is overlooked.
In conclusion, safeguarding loved ones and yourself from elder fraud involves a comprehensive strategy that encompasses communication, technology, estate planning, and digital asset organization.
By adopting a proactive and systematic approach, we can protect our elders from financial exploitation and the ever-present threat of identity theft, providing peace of mind for both them and their families.