Prevent Elder Abuse: Recognize the Signs and Common Scans

woman helping elderly woman
August 2018

No matter how careful you are, anyone can become a victim of financial fraud. However, older adults are particularly at risk. Those who commit elder fraud range from loved ones—family members, friends, or caregivers—to complete strangers. In its financial form, elder abuse is the exploitation of senior citizens to gain access to their property, investments, cash, or real estate.

Learn about common elder abuse scams and red flags below. You could prevent a loved one from becoming a victim.

Common Scams

Grandma Scams – "Hi Grandma! It's your favorite grandkid calling, and I need your help." Many seniors find it difficult to resist pleas like this and are more than willing to immediately wire money to their "grandchild" in need. The most important thing to do in this scenario is to verify the caller. Most scammers will plead with their "grandparent" not to tell anyone, but if you receive a call like this the fastest way to determine if the request is real is to contact another family member. Do not wire money or provide a credit card number until you've verified the identity of the caller.

"Free" Prize or Cruise Calls – Scammers call to inform an elderly consumer that they've won a sweepstakes prize or free cruise-they just need to send a "processing fee" or "cover shipping costs" to collect their winnings or tickets. Sometimes, these callers go straight to asking for credit card or bank account numbers. The best way to avoid this scam is to simply hang up. It is illegal to charge a fee to enter a sweepstakes. If the caller says you've won a cruise, ask what cruise line is involved and then verify the contest.

Fake Charities – This type of scam is especially popular after a well-publicized natural disaster. The scammer solicits "donations" and sometimes provides official-looking documents to prove the charity exists. When donating money, it's best to go through a well-known company and verify the organization or charity through the Better Business Bureau.

Red Flags for Abuse

Isolation – The number one tactic used by perpetrators is to separate the victim from family and/or friends who would stop the abuse. Watch for victims to stop attending social events or even disconnect their phone line.

Changes in spending habits – Drastic changes in account balances or unusually flamboyant purchases like cars and real estate are a sign that the senior citizen is not the person in charge of their finances. Keep a close eye on lavish "gifts" to new friends or acquaintances.

Unfamiliar names on joint accounts – Sometimes perpetrators convince their victims that they will help them organize their finances by creating a joint account. In reality, this gives the perpetrator unlimited access to the victim's funds. If a senior citizen wants another person to manage their finances, they should use a Power of Attorney (POA) account instead, which puts a legal obligation on the co-signer to protect the elderly person's interests.

If you notice these warning signs, what should you do about it? Visit for more information about elder abuse and how to report it. You can also visit our Security Resources page to learn more about other scams and ways to protect yourself.