Elder fraud is growing rapidly. Here's how to detect and stop it

By Ray Martin

/ MoneyWatch

Older Americans are increasingly falling victim to financial fraud and scams, losing billions to scammers and even friends and family members.

Banks, credit unions and other financial service companies reported more than $6 billion in assets held by seniors that may have been impacted by fraudulent activity from 2013 to 2017, according to a report earlier this year from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Their study looked at so-called "Suspicious Activity Reports," which are filed by banks and other financial providers to report suspected fraud or money laundering.

Elder financial fraud quadrupled during those years, reaching 180,000 Suspicious Activity Reports, the study found. On an individual basis, the sums aren't small: adults between 70 to 79 years old lost an average of $43,000. When the older adult knew the suspect, the average loss was even higher, about $50,000.

Trending News

It's an issue that impacted the late comic book legend Stan Lee, whose former business partner and caretaker was charged with grand theft of an elder or dependent adult, among other issues. The former business partner allegedly mishandled more than $5 million of Lee's money.

The problem has prompted some action from lawmakers, with the House passing the Senior Security Act earlier this month. The bill would create a task force at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to help stop financial predators from defrauding Americans over 65.

But what can families do to help their older relatives avoid fraud?

Understand the pitfalls

Elder financial fraud doesn't always involve scammers. It can be as simple and annoying as recurring fees charged to credit cards for subscriptions that were requested to be cancelled.

But other forms of elder fraud are far more serious and can involve overcharging for health services, charging Medicare and Medicaid for services never delivered and funeral and cemetery scams.

Telemarketing and internet scams requesting immediate payment of bogus fees and fines is another rapidly growing problem. According to the Senior Investor Protection Resource Center, one in five people over the age of 65 have been a victim of financial fraud. Senior citizens lose at least $2.9 billion annually to financial exploitation.

Creating a plan

The key to detecting and preventing fraud and scams targeting seniors it to be aware that it happens and have a plan in place to monitor for it. Families with older parents and relatives need to understand who is the most susceptible to be a target of elder fraud.

Hold a family conversation about the family members you are most concerned could become susceptible to elder fraud and what financial accounts they own. Identify who has access to each financial account, how often are accounts are monitored and how bills are paid.

After that conversation, someone in the family should take the lead to create a list of monthly expenses, income and all financial accounts. It's also a good idea to identify the most important accounts for paying bills, and which accounts have investments that should be monitored and managed.

Tap technology

Consider using technology-based services such as EverSafe, a subscription service which monitors bank, credit cards and investment accounts. EverSafe analyzes historical activity and patterns in accounts and develops a personal pattern of activity. Then it flags erratic behavior, triggering suspicious activity alerts and warnings about unusual withdrawals or missing deposits and unpaid bills, which helps customers guard against fraud and scams.

This is also a time to discuss establishing a power of attorney for financial accounts, and a durable power of attorney for other matters, including advance directives for health care.

Another good step is to set up automatic payments for as many monthly bills as possible. This is especially important to do for insurance policies for the home, auto, health insurance and long-term care insurance. Finding out an important insurance policy lapsed because the policy holder forgot to send the premium payment can result in excess fees or worse, loss of coverage.

It's also wise to cancel all unused or extra credit cards and consolidate bank and financial accounts. Reducing account clutter will help to simplify the individual's financial situation, as well as reduce incoming statements. That will help make the situation easier to manage.

Finally, and most importantly, create and stick to a regular process of monitoring all bank accounts and credit cards. Also, don't forget to obtain and review credit reports and compare to a past credit report to look for changes that could indicate suspicious behavior.

First published on May 31, 2019 / 6:36 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Ray Martin

View all articles by Ray Martin on CBS MoneyWatch»
Ray Martin has been a practicing financial advisor since 1986, providing financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch.com and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.

Border apprehensions expected to hit 12-year high

On Wednesday, more than 1,000 people were apprehended crossing a border fence, the largest one day arrest yet

5M ago

Elder fraud is growing rapidly. Here's how to detect and stop it

Senior citizens may be losing billions to scams that range from outright theft to overcharging for health services

7M ago

Trump thinks Boris Johnson "would be excellent" as prime minister

In an interview with British tabloid The Sun, Trump said that he has "always liked" Boris Johnson

11M ago

Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain won't work in anti-abortion states

"I'm not going to work in a state that discriminates," Chastain said

40M ago

Trump to give Medal of Freedom to tax-cut guru Arthur Laffer

Controversial theorist behind Reagan era's supply-side economics is also the co-author of the book "Trumponomics"

44M ago

Trump thinks Boris Johnson "would be excellent" as prime minister

In an interview with British tabloid The Sun, Trump said that he has "always liked" Boris Johnson

11M ago

Trump to give Medal of Freedom to tax-cut guru Arthur Laffer

Controversial theorist behind Reagan era's supply-side economics is also the co-author of the book "Trumponomics"

44M ago

Mexican foreign minister announces summit with Pompeo on trade issues

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard visited Washington on Friday after the president announced tariffs on all Mexican goods

1H ago

The battleground races that could decide who controls the Senate

Republicans will be defending the vast majority of seats up next year, but still have a chance to increase their majority

1H ago

Illinois sends recreational pot bill to governor's desk

The law would take effect January 1, 2020 once signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker

1H ago

Border apprehensions expected to hit 12-year high

On Wednesday, more than 1,000 people were apprehended crossing a border fence, the largest one day arrest yet

5M ago

Trump thinks Boris Johnson "would be excellent" as prime minister

In an interview with British tabloid The Sun, Trump said that he has "always liked" Boris Johnson

11M ago

"A lot of time crying": Migrant kids describe life in shelter

Children describe sadness, confusion, anxiety and fear, in a court filing arguing the facility doesn't comply with federal law

1H ago

Search continues for 21 missing in Budapest shipwreck

Officials said it could take days to recover the 70-year-old boat, which was built in the former Soviet Union

5H ago

Russian trolls fueled anti-vaccination debate, study finds

Study by George Washington University found trolls ramped up controversy by inflating different viewpoints

7H ago

Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain won't work in anti-abortion states

"I'm not going to work in a state that discriminates," Chastain said

40M ago

Highest-grossing movies of all time, ranked

What's the highest-grossing movie of all time? It might be one of your favorites

May 20 27 photos

Cardi B's strip club fight case to be presented to grand jury

The rapper faces misdemeanor reckless endangerment and assault charges in connection with the melee

2H ago

States target Georgia's film business after abortion ban

Competing states seek to capitalize on filmmakers' intentions to pull billions of production dollars from Georgia over heartbeat law

2H ago

Robert Pattinson in talks to play Batman in 2021

The upcoming standalone film, "The Batman," is slated to be released in June 2021

2H ago

Friday is the last day to use BlackBerry Messenger

BlackBerry stopped making phones in 2016, but BBM was still alive and well – until today

2H ago

New Call of Duty video game to be more mature

Activision's latest Call of Duty franchise release is going back to its own past.

6H ago

FedEx expands delivery to 7 days a week

Shipping giant will deliver on Sundays as it moves to keep up with growing e-commerce volume

May 30

Salesforce.com bars retailers that sell semi-automatic weapons

Silicon Valley giant to prohibit its business customers from using its e-commerce technology to sell certain firearms

May 30

Waymo resumes self-driving truck tests on Arizona freeways

Autonomous trucks will hit the roads around Phoenix this week, though initially rigs will have two drivers

May 30

NASA taps 3 companies for moon missions

If all goes well, the landers will touch down on the moon in 2020 and 2021

57M ago

Energy Department calls natural gas "freedom gas" in press release

The release isn't the first time the department has associated "freedom" with natural gas

May 29

Thousands of puffins die as climate warms

Mass mortality events are becoming bigger and more frequent in "a changing world"

May 29

Cosmonauts honor spacewalk pioneer on eve of 85th birthday

Cosmonauts dedicate spacewalk to Alexey Leonov, who carried out the first spacewalk in 1965

May 29

Why this year's tornado season is in overdrive

For the year so far, we are closing in on 1,000 tornado reports across the nation

May 29

States target Georgia's film business after abortion ban

Competing states seek to capitalize on filmmakers' intentions to pull billions of production dollars from Georgia over heartbeat law

2H ago

Missouri's last remaining abortion clinic will stay open

Planned Parenthood of St. Louis would have been forced to stop providing abortion by the end of Friday

1H ago

Ben & Jerry's plans CBD-infused ice cream if FDA approves

The ice cream brand famous for flavors like "Half Baked" and "Cherry Garcia" awaits FDA's first hearing on CBD edibles

5H ago

Russian trolls fueled anti-vaccination debate, study finds

Study by George Washington University found trolls ramped up controversy by inflating different viewpoints

7H ago

Studios rethink film and TV work in states with anti-abortion laws

Half a dozen media companies say they might not fund job-rich productions in states passing anti-abortion legislation

23H ago

Elder fraud is growing rapidly. Here's how to detect and stop it

Senior citizens may be losing billions to scams that range from outright theft to overcharging for health services

7M ago

Trump to give Medal of Freedom to tax-cut guru Arthur Laffer

Controversial theorist behind Reagan era's supply-side economics is also the co-author of the book "Trumponomics"

44M ago

How $1,000 in universal basic income could help solve childhood obesity

Alaska's universal basic income program reduced the rate of childhood obesity by 4.5%, possibly due to healthier meals

1H ago

Martin Shkreli sues his former company, claiming he was fraudulently ousted

"Pharma Bro" Shkreli filed the lawsuit from prison, where he's serving a 7-year sentence for lying to investors

1H ago

States target Georgia's film business after abortion ban

Competing states seek to capitalize on filmmakers' intentions to pull billions of production dollars from Georgia over heartbeat law

2H ago

Shooting leaves multiple people injured in Virginia

Police responded to the incident Friday afternoon

updated 6M ago

Police respond to reports of shooting at Virginia courthouse

Police responded to the incident Friday afternoon

1H ago

Cardi B's strip club fight case to be presented to grand jury

The rapper faces misdemeanor reckless endangerment and assault charges in connection with the melee

2H ago

Whistleblower on escaping polygamy and the Kingston clan

Mary Nelson escapes the secretive Utah polygamous sect and tells all to "Whistleblower"

3H ago

Search for missing mother of 5 takes new turn

Investigators are taking close look at the estranged husband of Jennifer Dulos

7H ago

NASA taps 3 companies for moon missions

If all goes well, the landers will touch down on the moon in 2020 and 2021

57M ago

Cosmonauts honor spacewalk pioneer on eve of 85th birthday

Cosmonauts dedicate spacewalk to Alexey Leonov, who carried out the first spacewalk in 1965

May 29

SpaceX readying crew ship for flight by end of year

SpaceX, working through a Crew Dragon failure probe, is protecting possible end-of-year flight

May 28

NASA awards contract for future moon station

NASA is moving ahead with plans to send astronauts back to the moon by 2024

May 23

SpaceX pins high hopes on Starlink satellites

SpaceX plans multiple Starlink launches in 2019 to build out space-based internet network

May 23

Horrifying photos of Chernobyl and its aftermath

HBO's drama provided a devastating look at the worst nuclear accident of the 20th century. Now see what really happened.

3M ago 39 photos

Memorial Day 2019: America honors the fallen

Remembering the sacrifices made by service members in our nation's wars

May 27 37 photos

John & Jacque: A tale of love and war

A look at John Needham, Jacque Villagomez and the events that led to her death

May 25 14 photos

Highest-grossing movies of all time, ranked

What's the highest-grossing movie of all time? It might be one of your favorites

May 20 27 photos

Britain's royal great-grandchildren

Prince Harry's new baby Archie is the eighth great-grandchild for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip

May 8 9 photos

Popular

Shooting at Virginia Beach courthouse

Virginia Beach police said there is one suspect in custody and multiple people were injured in a reported shooting at a courthouse.

updated 46M ago 00:32

Barr explains his differences with Mueller

Attorney General William Barr sat down with CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford for an exclusive interview, and explains why it was that special counsel Robert Mueller could not clear President Trump on obstruction, and Barr could.

updated 46M ago 02:56

Planned Parenthood celebrates judge's ruling

A Missouri judge has issued a stay, allowing the state's only abortion clinic to continue providing the procedure after state health officials refused to renew the clinic's license. Dr. Leana Wen, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, joined CBSN to discuss the ruling.

2H ago 03:17

What's next after abortion clinic ruling?

A Missouri judge has issued a stay, allowing the state's only abortion clinic to continue providing the procedure. St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer ruled in Planned Parenthood's favor after state health officials refused to renew the clinic's license. CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal joined CBSN from outside the St. Louis clinic with more.

2H ago 02:50

Missouri abortion clinic to keep operating

A Missouri judge has issued a stay, allowing the state's only abortion clinic to continue providing the procedure. St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer ruled in Planned Parenthood's favor after state health officials refused to renew the clinic's license. CBS News reporter Kate Smith joined CBSN to discuss the decision.

3H ago 07:44