It is a difficult task to help anyone who may be a victim of consumer fraud, but it is particularly difficult to identify fraud against elderly victims, who often live alone and may be socially isolated. Starting a conversation about the prevalence of scams, the warning signs of fraud, and ways to minimize contact from telemarketers is a good start. Often, seniors feel that it is impolite to hang up on a caller, for example. However, by learning to recognize potential fraud against the elderly, caring friends and family members can help educate the elderly about consumer fraud and can take steps to prevent further fraud.
Recognizing Potential Fraud
The first step in preventing or stopping consumer fraud against the elderly is identifying the warning signs of potential fraud from an outsider's perspective. Although this may be difficult, particularly if an elderly person lives alone, some factors should be investigated as red flags of potential fraud. For the most part, red flags either relate to the nature of contacts with the potential victim or to financial factors.
Some things that relatives and friends can watch for in the homes of elderly loved ones relate to the frequency and types of contact. For example, large amounts of telephone or mail contact, particularly from strangers such as sweepstakes companies or unfamiliar charities, may indicate a potential issue for investigation. The presence of many free prizes or trinkets in the home or unusual quantities of magazines can also be red flags warranting further inquiry.
Other signs relate to the elderly person's finances. Frequent or large payments to distant organizations, especially if coupled with difficulty meeting normal living expenses, should be cause for concern. Additionally, frequent calls from organizations that claim to be able to recoup money fraudulently taken by other organizations are a warning sign of potential consumer fraud.
Dealing with Potential Fraud
Regardless of whether fraud is actually suspected, loved ones should broach the subject of consumer fraud with elderly friends and family members. The strongest weapon against consumer fraud is a savvy consumer. However, if any of the warning signs of fraud are actually present, immediate action should be taken. First, a discussion with the senior is warranted, as is a more general discussion about consumer fraud. Second, if bank account or credit card numbers were distributed during a transaction, they should be changed. Finally, suspected fraud should be reported to local law enforcement agencies, state attorney general offices, or the Federal Trade Commission.