By Justin Hawkins, Wells Fargo Bank
The 73-year-old woman put her trust in, and handed over her financial resources to, her two supposed caregivers. In return, they stole all of her money and other assets – even her house – leaving her destitute and without shelter.
This sad situation is an example of one of many crimes committed against senior citizens that happen in South Carolina. Often, the culprits are caregivers or even family members. May is known as Older Americans Month, and it’s a good time to remind ourselves about the issue of elder abuse across the state.
There are a few common characteristics in most elder financial abuse cases. The perpetrator uses trickery, intimidation or coercion, or the victim is too confused to give informed consent. Often the victim lives alone, is physically impaired and depends on another person for assistance.
Financial institutions in South Carolina train their staff to look for signs that might indicate their elderly customers are being victimized. National and state government agencies and nonprofit groups, such as AARP and the South Carolina Bankers Association, provide information on the topic and actively support law enforcement efforts to pursue the crooks.
The best defense against financial abuse in South Carolina is for seniors and their loved ones to be aware of the enormity of this crime, be able to spot its occurrence, and know how to report any incidents or attempts. Here are some of the more common scams:
- Misappropriation of funds – A criminal obtains a senior’s bank account or credit card numbers and uses this information to steal funds.
- Grandma/Grandpa scam – You get a call that your grandchild is in some legal or criminal mess while traveling. Hang up and call them directly and don’t feel pressure to give the scammer your account information.
- Pigeon drop – One or two crooks pretend to find cash in a public place and offer to share the funds with a senior if he or she will put in some of their own money.
- Telemarketing/mail fraud – This can take many forms, including fraudulent contest prizes, bogus magazine subscriptions and phony vacation offers.
- Unsolicited work – A worker comes to a senior’s home and offers to do inexpensive repair work. Then come the unexpected charges – for a shoddy job or for work that isn’t even done.
- Investments/donations – The thief solicits a donation to a nonexistent charity or for an investment in a “high-return, low-risk” deal.
As we learn more about their tricks and scams, thieves continue to invent new ways to separate elders from their hard-earned funds and assets. Here are steps elders and their loved ones can take to prevent victimization:
- Never give anyone personal identification information or credit card or bank account numbers. Thieves do not need an actual credit card to steal.
- Never bend to pressure to withdraw a large amount of money or agree to an offer. Ask for details in writing and review them with a trusted professional or loved one.
- Never pay in advance for home improvement/repair work.
- Never let strangers into your home.
- Be cautious about opening a joint bank account. With equal access, the other person can drain the account without your permission or knowledge.
- Use voicemail to screen unknown calls.
- Make sure your mailbox is secure. One of the most frequent ways thieves get personal information about victims is by stealing items from a home’s mailbox.
- Check bank statements carefully for unauthorized transactions.
- Sign up for direct deposit for your pension, Social Security and other income.
If you think you have been a victim, report the incident immediately to your bank and police department. Save all documentation from suspicious transactions – including mail offers (even the envelopes), canceled checks, telephone bills and credit card statements. Take notes during your telephone conversations, and include the date and time they happened.
Most importantly, remember this adage when it comes to financial offers: if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably neither good nor true.
Justin Hawkins is the South Carolina Region Bank President for Wells Fargo Bank.