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Hands holding money

An older adult thumbs through a wad of cash. Older adults are disproportionately impacted by financial abuse and exploitation.

Keith Srakocic

How to avoid financial exploitation and scams targeting older adults

While anyone can get scammed, older adults tend to face higher fraud losses. Victims over the age of 60 lose a collective $28.3 billion dollars annually to scams or financial abuse, according to an AARP report.

These losses can be devastating, particularly for older adults who have already retired and cannot earn back their money.

Older adults are less likely to report

After getting scammed, feeling embarrassed is common – so fraud often goes unreported.

But people should not be ashamed, said Leslie McGranahan, the Chicago Fed’s senior vice president of regional analysis and community development

“The people who are perpetrating the scams, this is what they do for a living,” McGranahan said. “You've just been targeted by someone who was really good at exploiting vulnerabilities.”

Older adults are even less likely to report financial fraud, especially if they are victimized by someone they know, according to the AARP.

“When trusted others exploit an older person, it really has deeper ramifications – loss of trust, a lot more depression and anxiety,” said Peter Lichtenberg, director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University.

If a loved one violates that trust, older adults may avoid reporting them, particularly if they still rely on them for care. Other times, they might not want to involve the criminal system and see their family member or friend prosecuted.

What complaints look like in Chicago and Illinois

Arrests for this type of crime are rare in Chicago. An Injustice Watch investigation found that over the past three years, Chicago police have made one arrest for elder financial exploitation or aggravated theft for victims over the age of 60.

Statewide, elder financial exploitation complaints are rising. More than 8,400 reports were made to the Illinois division of Adult Protective Services in 2022, according to an Injustice Watch analysis. But that investigation also found that the agency’s rate of verification has fallen, from 19% a decade ago to just 5.5% in 2022.

“One of two things is happening – either they were all mostly all false reports, or they're not looking deep enough,” said Stephanie Zimmermann, Chicago Sun-Times investigative consumer report.

Tips to Avoid Scams

  • Get caller ID and do not answer calls from numbers you don’t know

  • Avoid pressure to act fast on financial requests – especially ones you do not expect

  • Confirm you trust the sender of an email or text message before you click a link or document

  • Scammers may pretend to be a part of a recognizable organization – like the IRS, Social Security, or Medicare. Be careful of fake calls, and never give personal information over the phone

Tips to Avoid Elder Financial Abuse

  • Talk to a well-rated lawyer or financial advisor about how you can protect your assets. You can also consult with them before signing a document you do not understand.

  • Build a relationship with your banker, so they can look out for any strange transactions

  • Lock up sensitive documents you need to keep, like your checkbook, account statements and social security card.

  • Shred receipts or sensitive documents you no longer need

  • If you suspect a family member or friend is taking advantage of your financials, tell someone at your bank or call Adult Protective Services

More Resources

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a guide to reporting elder financial abuse.

The U.S. Department of Justice provides resources for Illinois here.

The National Adult Protective Services investigates financial abuse and exploitation of older adults.

AARP has a helpline to report scams at 877-908-3360.

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