Earlier in the week I had a voice mail on my cellphone. The message was a stern warning delivered in an over-the-top ominous law-enforcement voice. I was about to be arrested and go to jail for fraud against the IRS. I had to immediately call the number he gave me to deal with the situation. This was my last warning.
I didn’t respond, of course. The IRS fraud call is a well-known scam. But the message was a timely reminder that scams are on the rise.
The reason for the glum outlook is the aging of the population. The number of Americans 65 and older will reach more than 20 percent of the U.S. population in 2030. That’s up from 13 percent in 2012.
“Senior citizens are most likely to have a ‘nest egg,’ to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit — all of which make them attractive to con artists,” cautions the FBI.
Most victims of financial exploitation are between ages 80 and 89. A majority of individuals in this age group are women and, therefore, victims are twice as likely to be female, according to Cynthia Hutchins, director of financial gerontology at Merrill Lynch/Bank of America. Victims tend to live alone and need some form of assistance managing everyday life.
Sad to say, there aren’t easy answers for prevention. The financial services industry has made some progress at developing procedures for spotting warning signs that a client is being manipulated or scammed. The industry is working on ways to better determine when older adults might be having trouble managing their money, a signal that they could become vulnerable to unscrupulous schemes. Still, this is a tricky terrain for financial institutions to navigate with current laws and regulations inadequate to the task.
In the meantime, family remains the best defense for keeping crooks at bay or, for those without immediate family, discussions with trusted friends or advisers. Estate planning is much more than the traditional topics of wills, trusts, probate and executor. Estate planning should involve many conversations with older parents, relatives and other loved ones on developing a financial plan and household procedures for minimizing the risk of exploitation.
If you are looking for ideas to discuss with an elder there are resources to tap for guidance. Some prominent examples are the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice website; MIT’s AgeLab “Resources to Help Protect Older Adults from Financial Fraud and Abuse”; and AARP’s ElderWatch webpage.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.