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What to do if you’re the victim of a senior financial exploitation 

Unfortunately, seniors are often the targets for scams and financial abuse. Many have funds saved for retirement, live alone, or have trouble with new technology, which scammers prey on. 

It can come in many different forms: a door-to-door salesman who coerces someone into a predatory loan; a romance scam preying on loneliness; or a trusted friend or family member secretly taking funds or using credit cards without approval.

Whatever the scam or abuse may be, there are steps you can take to combat it. In certain scenarios, ICLS may also be able to help. 

Still, one of the most important things to know about senior financial exploitation is that it can happen to anyone – regardless of wealth, race, or education. Victims of this type of financial exploitation shouldn’t feel shame or fear of coming forward; AARP found that more than $28 billion is stolen from seniors annually in these schemes.  

By learning how to prevent financial exploitation, reporting these crimes, and sharing your story, you can help take the power away from these types of predators. 

Preventing exploitation (from the American Bankers Association) 

  • Regularly review your credit report. Never give personal information, including Social Security Number, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and trust the other party. 
  • You may request a free annual credit report from the three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) by either going to annualcreditreport.com or calling 877-322-8228. When looking over your credit reports, look for signs of identity theft such as credit inquiries from unfamiliar companies, accounts you never opened, and unexplained debt. 
  • Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.” 
  • You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you think someone close to you is trying to take control of your finances, call your local Adult Protective Services and tell someone at your bank. 
  • Trust your instincts. Exploiters often are very skilled. They can be charming and forceful in their effort to convince you to give up control of your finances. Don’t be fooled—if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 
  • Scammers use urgency as a tool – do not feel rushed to make a decision. Check your sources to make sure this is a legitimate caller/person. 
  • Set up free account alerts on your debit or credit card. By doing so, you can sign up to get alerts by text, phone, or email to keep track of your finances and detect withdrawals you did not authorize or other suspicious account activity. 

What scams could look like 

  1. Tech support scams: the scammer poses as a tech support member and offers to fix your computer issues in an attempt to gain access to your computer and as a result, your private information. 
  1. Grandparent scams: the scammer poses as a close family member stating they’re in immediate financial need, such as needing to be bailed out of jail, or needing money to cover an emergency medical procedure. 
  1. Government impersonation scams: the scammer poses as a government employee and threatens to arrest or prosecute you unless you agree to provide the requested or “outstanding” payment. 
  1. Lottery scams: the scammer claims you won a sweepstake or lottery and you can collect your prize by paying a fee. 
  1. Home repair scams: the scammer appears at your home and charges you for “necessary repairs” which they never end up providing. 

How Legal Aid Can Help 

At ICLS, our Elder Law and Consumer teams can assist eligible residents with a variety of issues. We are a nonprofit legal aid organization that provides advice, counsel, and representation on civil legal matters for low-income residents, seniors, and people with disabilities. 

What does that look like? 

Let’s say you are a senior, and you let your grandson move into the home you own to help you around the house. You realize he has been taking money from your accounts without permission, and he gets combative when you try to address the problem. 

ICLS staff can walk you through the options you can take, which could be evicting him from your home, filing a restraining order, or taking him to court over the missing funds. In certain scenarios, one of our attorneys may assist you through the legal process. 

If you think you need legal assistance, call our senior hotline at (800) 977-4257 or apply online at bit.ly/ICLSApply. 

Where to report senior financial exploitation 

National agencies 

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Report financial scams and fraud to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). 
  • Social Security Administration (SSA): If your Social Security benefits are being misused, report it to the SSA Office of the Inspector General at oig.ssa.gov or by calling 1-800-269-0271. 
  • FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): If the exploitation involved internet fraud, report it to the IC3 at ic3.gov
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB): Report the scam to the BBB’s Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker. The BBB collects data on scams and works to protect consumers. 
  • AARP Fraud Watch Network: AARP offers resources and a helpline for reporting scams targeting seniors. Visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call 1-877-908-3360. 

State agencies 

  • Adult Protective Services (APS): California’s APS investigates reports of elder abuse, including financial scams. You can contact them through your county’s APS office. Find your local APS office by calling the APS hotline at 1-833-401-0832 or visiting the California Department of Social Services website. 
  • California Attorney General’s Office: The California Department of Justice handles consumer protection issues, including senior scams. File a complaint online at oag.ca.gov/consumers or call the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit at 1-800-952-5225.