Don't Let Grandma Get Scammed


Scams on ederlyPoor Grandma. It's bad enough that she needs to wear hearing aids and cut back on salt. Now she's become a prime target for scammers.

According to a recent survey from MetLife (MET):

  • The elderly lose nearly $3 billion annually to financial abuse.
  • Women are nearly twice as likely to be victims as men.
  • Most victims are in their 80s, living alone and in need of some help with health care or home maintenance.
  • Most scammers were men in their 30s, 40s or 50s.

One of the best defenses for the elderly are trustworthy loved ones who keep in touch with them regularly and monitor their well-being for signs of danger.

Common Scams

How do trusting, unsuspecting elderly folks get robbed of their hard-earned dollars? The MetLife study notes that financial elder abuse falls into three categories:

  • occasion crimes, which happen when someone is in the wrong place at the wrong time, often showing some signs of vulnerability, such as a cane or a handicapped-parking tag.
  • desperation crimes, which are are generally committed by relatives or friends who are "so desperate for money that they will do whatever it takes to get it."
  • predation crimes, which involve someone starting a social or professional relationship and building up trust with the intent to later exploit it.

Interestingly, only half of such crimes are committed by strangers. Family, friends and neighbors commit a full one-third of them (34%), and exploitation by businesses makes up 12%. Between 2008 and 2010, robberies and "scams perpetrated by strangers" jumped from 9% to 28%.

But there are also some subtler, more common ways that the elderly fall victim to financial crimes.

Many times, a stranger or a loved one will prey upon an older person's fears or emotions. Older people are often worried about not having enough money or about their children's or grandchildren's welfare. Thus, they are can be a little too ready to believe a pitch about a sure-thing investment.

Sometimes, seniors end up allowing someone they've come to trust to start managing their money for them. This person can be a supposed professional who collects huge fees or commissions while making dubious investments. Or it can be a relative or new friend who offers to pay bills and run errands, while making extra withdrawals from bank accounts, forging checks or stealing credit cards.

Another common disaster involves hiring someone who appears out of the blue to make home repairs that never get completed. Elderly folks also can fall for false charities when a manipulative criminal tugs their heartstrings.

Don't assume that such things will not happen in your family. They happen to the rich and the poor, the famous and the obscure. Testifying in a Senate hearing on elder abuse, actor Mickey Rooney recently accused his stepson of financial, physical and emotional abuse.

Warning Signs

It can sometimes be hard to discover abuse, especially when an elderly person is reluctant to report a family member -- or simply embarrassed at having been swindled. According to the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study, around 84% of incidents may not be reported to authorities.

So keep an eye out for signs of possible trouble.
  • Physical signs include bruises, restraint marks on wrists, or evidence of over- or under-medication.
  • Emotional abuse signs include dementia-like behavior, such as rocking or talking to oneself, or withdrawal and a reduction in communication.
  • Financial danger signs range from suspicious changes in legal documents, such as wills and powers of attorneys; odd withdrawals on bank statements; and bills piling up. (Note that some of these signs may simply reflect an older person's decreasing ability to take care of themselves or their finances.)

Be wary of any caregivers who won't leave you alone with your loved one, who exhibit controlling or belittling behavior or who show extreme interest in the older person's financial affairs. You should also get suspicious if your elderly loved one suddenly has a new best friend helping him or her. Some truly are new friends, while others are predators setting up their crimes.

As Mickey Rooney told Congress, "Elder abuse comes in many different forms.... Each one is devastating in its own right. I know because it happened to me. My money was taken and misused. When I asked for information, I was told that I couldn't have any of my own information. ... I was literally left powerless." Don't let that happen to yourself or the ones you love.

Learn more:
National Center on Elder Abuse
Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging
National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

Longtime Motley Fool contributor
Selena Maranjian holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see her holdings and a short bio.

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Reverse mortgage is a nice financial instrument for the senior citizens in the country who do not have adequate retirement fund at their disposal and whose age is 62 or more .

July 01 2013 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They'd better not mess with this grandma. I pack a 38.

August 17 2011 at 10:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please look out for the elderly or weak individuals subject to be preyed upon like phone calls urging you to change service providers for gas and electric that require personal information over a phone line from a phone call that was not initiated by the customer or door to door sales people that want to get into your home to measure things but leaving one sales person distracting the customer and letting the contractor into the person's home alone to case things out. Things like this happened to my WW II disabled veteran father before I sued for conservatorship against a medical provider (nursing or old age home) that knew my father had some assets that would have made it profitable for the nursing home to convince my Dad to let them assume his care. He had a house, bank accounts, savings, investments, life insurance, etc. My Dad was with it enuf but knew he was deteriorating physically and mentally due to his age and physical condition going downhill. I knew he was better off in his own home with me his daughter, his pets, and physical and other therapies to keep him at maximum functioning free of pain and letting him do his own thing in his own time. Mental happiness kept him functioning very independently until the age of 86. It did not hurt matters any that my husband and I along with a live in housekeeper/ladyfriend of father's lived in his home along with him to make things financially and physically easier for all of us. Plus Dad had lots of outside interests, activities and friends. We were a family and all helped each other. My father was the son of immigrants to America and I was second generation native-born American and the first to go onto higher education (university). The fact that it was nursing school did not hurt when it came to help care for older members of our family--4 grandparents, both my mother and father, currently mother-in-law, a single unmarried uncle, and being the only child and the last one left standing, the preservation of assets will help provide for the retirement of my husband and I--both in our 50's. We have no children of our own except for nieces and nephews and their children some of whom we love as if they were our own grandchildren. Sometimes a nontraditional family of one's own choosing can be just as good as a tradtional nuclear family of Mom, Pop, and 2.3 children.

August 17 2011 at 8:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We've all been scammed. Now Obama wants to create thousands of new Govt. jobs. H E L L O, our great grandkids
will NEVER get the national debt paid off.

August 17 2011 at 7:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to savemycountry911's comment


August 17 2011 at 9:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

President Bush did what was best for the country. Obama is the one who pissed away trillions.

August 17 2011 at 10:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I know someone.. and elderly lady.. with a son who littreally "took her to the cleaners" when he was put in control of her finances. He is a CPA and knows all the loopholes to hide his activities. Fortunately, a savvy family member finally caught on when the son convinced his mother that the fee to clean her mobile home after she moved into a retirement community (they were going to rent out the mobile home) was $10,000. You read right.. $10,000. Thing is.. she has always had a maid.. and the mobile home was very clean when she moved out with only a couple of minor cleaning things needing to be done. The total should have been less than $300. After further digging, it was found that the son had stripped over 75% of her life savings away and was hell bent on going for it all. His take was that his mother had lived too long and the money he had planned to receive upon her death was not going to meet the schedule he had laid out for hmself long in advance.. assuming she would die earlier. Lucky he didn't just go ahead and kill her (which I would imagine happens more fequently than most people think).

August 17 2011 at 6:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was shocked to learn how much money the elderly are losing because of financial scams. I highly recommend anyone who needs to hire an in-home caregiver for a family member to go through an agency that offers ClearCare care management software. We need to do all we can to prevent people from taking advantage of the elderly. ClearCare allows you to check-in on your loved ones, make sure the caregiver is actually at their house, administering medicine on time, etc. More families should create awareness for these services.

August 17 2011 at 2:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply