Depending on which report you read and the method of accounting, 10 percent to 40 percent of seniors are victims of financial exploitation and fraud. A quick search on Google turns up dozens of articles describing the kinds of scams perpetrated on seniors.
It is not just elders with limited capacity who are affected either. In a given year, 1 in 18 “cognitively intact” older adults is victim to financial scams, fraud or abuse, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health which reported on 12 studies involving roughly 41,700 individuals. People young and old report receiving emails requesting validation of their account profiles, a notification of their supposed lottery winnings in another country or pleas for money to help a relative who’s in trouble. Even intelligent and educated people get taken in.
In the midst of this, what are you doing to keep your clients safe?
A good place to start is to make exploitation an open topic with all of your clients from middle age on.
Stay Educated About Fraud
Subscribe to the AARP Fraud Watch Network which sends monthly emails about scams operating by geographic area. Stay current with the IRS Tax Scam Alerts especially just after tax season when perpetrators threaten seniors with supposedly unpaid taxes. Consider security awareness training from an organization such as SecuringTheHuman.sans.org or others.
Give Clients a List of Frequent Scams and Schemes
Create a branded sheet listing some of the most frequent scams and schemes so clients know what to watch out for. Consider putting a magnet on the back of it so they can post it on the refrigerator as a handy reminder. They will be less likely to be taken in if they have previously read a note about what to watch out for.
Talk Openly to your Clients
Start your dialog with language like:
- We’ve talked about how elaborate and sophisticated scams, phishing schemes, and fraud are getting. I’m receiving things all the time myself; no one is immune. I’ll keep alerting you to schemes in our area, and I will do my best to protect you. You can help. Every time we meet, I’ll ask you to report what you’ve received, whether a suspicious phone call, an email, or a person at your door. That way I can keep tabs on what is actually occurring, which will benefit all of my clients.
- If you have any doubts about whether something you receive is legitimate, do absolutely nothing immediately. Don’t click on a link, open an attachment, give any information whatsoever, wire money, get a gift card, turn over remote access to your computer, prepay for home repairs or anything else. If it’s an email, forward it to me without clicking on anything so I can validate its legitimacy. If it’s a phone call, ask for a number where you can call back, knowing that if they won’t give you one or insist you must act instantly, it’s not legitimate. Don’t be afraid to simply hang up. If it concerns a relative, don’t do anything without calling that person’s family to verify their whereabouts. Any time you are in doubt or have any suspicions whatsoever, contact me and I’ll help you check it out.
- If you do cooperate with a caller or click on a link and then wonder whether you’ve been taken in, call me immediately. There’s no shame; it happens to a lot of smart people who just don’t take the extra moment to think or who believe it may be valid. We’ll take whatever steps we can to make it right—perhaps changing your passwords or reporting it to the authorities so they can track it down or anything else we can do to help. We’ll also use that information to alert others that this scam is operating, so your misfortune may save someone else. Let’s work together to protect you and those you love to the greatest extent possible.
Then, if something does happen, involve your compliance department, and cooperate with your clients to report the incident to police. If it involves a vulnerable adult, you can also report to the Adult Protective Services Agency in your area.
There are far too many financial scam artists who are earning a living preying on seniors. So keep following up every time you meet. If you save even one client from being victimized, it will be worth it.
Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professions in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life.