First and foremost, if you reasonably believe the senior is in imminent danger physically; you must contact Emergency Services/Law Enforcement by dialing 911. If the senior lives in another area of the country, and you don’t know the phone number for the local law enforcement agency, call 911 from your phone and provide the dispatcher with the information. In many cases, the 911 call center has information readily available for out of town emergencies.
If you have a senior citizen who is a family member living in another area of the country, it would be a good idea to look up the 10-digit phone number for the local emergency services, including law enforcement and paramedics. Even if the area is rural and emergency services don’t operate 24×7; generally agencies have setup call forwarding to ring the county 911 dispatch center.
If there is no imminent physical danger to the senior, the actions to take in response can be very complex because of all the variables, such as the type of theft, method of theft, financial conduit used to accomplish the theft, did victim consent, relationship between victim and offender, stakeholders involved, whether the victim wants law enforcement involved, and capacity/competency of victim, etc.
We focus on 4 stages in response to elder fraud and financial exploitation:
- Stage 1 – Investigation – What, How, Who, When
- Stage 2 – Stop the Loss – Turn Off, Shut Down
- Stage 3 – Lessen Potential for Re-victimization
- Stage 4 – Long Term
Because of the variables and the fluid nature of senior theft, we can only provide a general outline of some of the actions required; and the lists below should not be regarded by the reader as all actions necessary; but provide ideas for discussion:
Stage 1 – Investigation – What, How, Who, When:
Get family members involved and start asking the appropriate questions. This is a time sensitive stage – if the conduit enabling the theft is still open, it needs to be quickly identified and closed in order to stop the financial loss. Below are several questions to ask:
- Is there evidence of financial exploitation?
- Is there any other type of elder abuse evident – such as physical or emotional?
- What type of theft has occurred – is it a trusted individual or a stranger?
- What means, or conduit, was used for transfer of the funds; such as a credit card, bank withdraw, money order or electronic wire transfer – was the transaction in the form of property such as appliances or personal property stolen – was there a transfer of real estate or land?
- Is the theft still occurring – such as a credit card being used due to identity theft?
- Is there evidence of mental cognitive impairment?
- Did the victim consent to the financial transfer?
- Does the victim have the capacity/competency to provide that consent?
- Did the offender apply undue influence on the victim to enable the theft?
- Who are the stakeholders involved – a spouse, family members, neighbors, attorneys, banks, credit card companies, etc.
- Do the stakeholders prefer to maintain privacy, and not involve law enforcement?
- Did a type of exploitation occur that requires mandatory reporting to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services? Remember, in some cases, certain agencies or institutions are required to report regardless of the preference.
- Who can provide onsite support to the senior for the next stage?
You don’t need to answer all these questions at the same time; but, the answers will determine the steps to take next. In many cases, financial abuse of a senior citizen is carefully concealed by the offender, so collection of “hard evidence” is difficult. In those cases, obtain as much information as possible and contact the various agencies that can assist; such as local law enforcement or Adult Protective Services.
You may not live in the same geographical area as the senior citizen, or the person you are concerned about isn’t a close family member; but, you still believe financial exploitation is occurring. If that is the case, get as much information as you can from the victim, family members, or other persons involved, and contact the appropriate local authorities. In some cases, Adult Protective Services can assist as well.
If you reasonably believe a crime has been committed, or the theft is ongoing, you can reach out to local law enforcement for support; if that is the decision of those involved. You may find that in certain cases, the circumstance of abuse may require law enforcement involvement. There are specific laws regarding elder abuse, and under certain circumstances, a person, agency, or institution is required to report suspected abuse to law enforcement and/or Adult Protective Services.
Feel free to contact us at the “Stop Senior Thefts” project if you are hesitant to make that call to authorities. We are happy to give you guidance and recommendations. Please keep in mind, at the “Stop Senior Thefts” project; we adhere to all state and federal laws involving notification of elder abuse; but we can also explain those circumstances and work with you during the investigation. Remember, the physical and emotional safety of the senior citizen is paramount.
Stage 2 – Stop the Loss – Turn Off, Shut Down:
This stage requires specific actions depending on the circumstances and type of theft that has occurred, or is ongoing.
- Report all instances of elder financial abuse to your local police—if fraud is involved, they should investigate
- If necessary and all family members agree, contact Adult Protective Services in your town or state for help. Remember, it might be mandatory for some agencies or institutions to report the abuse – regardless of preference by family
- Cancel credit cards
- Close out bank accounts and change signatories
- Change phone numbers
- Put new phone number on National Do Not Disturb list
- If Credit Card fraud or Identity Theft has occurred, the Federal Trade Commission has developed very good guidelines and instructions on the necessary actions
- Change email addresses
- Set appropriate privacy settings on social network apps, such as Facebook
- If a computer was used as a conduit by the thief, review and implement the “Stay Safe Online” tips as documented by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA)
- If a trusted individual is the offender, separate the victim from the person – contact Law Enforcement or Adult Protective Services for support
Stage 3 – Lessen Potential for Re-victimization:
Numerous researchers have found the most vulnerable senior citizen for financial exploitation are those who have already been victimized. In cases of theft by strangers; sophisticated scam artists actually have “reload rooms” in their call centers that specifically target past victims. If a victim has become “wise” to the scam, these sophisticated offenders will transfer the phone number to someone else who will make contact with the victim posing as law enforcement, with the promise to help the senior recover the money sent in the past scam. Read our page on “Stranger Theft”.
At the “Stop Senior Thefts” project, we have seen this first hand when we impersonated a senior citizen during one of our investigations. The scammer on the other end of the phone was well versed in “cop phrases” to appear legitimate. For the average person without law enforcement experience, the caller could pass as genuine.
Whether stranger theft or by a trusted individual, the objective of this stage is to put into place the appropriate technical or social “firewalls”.
- Obtain education on elder financial exploitation for the senior and the appropriate family members
- Contact the victim’s physician to review the potential for mental cognitive impairment of the senior
- Review social networking profiles, and remove contacts who are not known to family members – Facebook is a great method for strangers to reconnect to the victim and further drain the bank accounts
- As necessary, monitor the victim’s email, social networking accounts, and phone calls to ensure the thieves aren’t reconnecting
- It may be necessary for family members to setup pre-paid cash cards for the victim, and eliminate open spending options such as checking accounts and credit cards
- Get the victim involved in community activities to reduce loneliness and boredom
- Setup a rotating schedule for family members to contact the senior on a routine basis to reduce loneliness
Stage 4 – Long Term:
This is the stage that requires the victim and family members to address the long term plan; especially if the exploitation was of significant value as to affect quality of life.
- If the victim’s physician has identified cognitive impairment; will the victim need to be moved to a senior center?
- Is there an option for recovery of the funds/property stolen?
- What is the current status of the senior’s liquid assets (cash) vs expenses?
- Will property assets need to be sold to address any shortfall?
- Should a family member be assigned as a guardian?
- Should a fiduciary be assigned?
- Is there another party involved – such as the victim’s spouse – and if so, what are that person’s desires and needs?
If family members are not local to the senior citizen victimized, it may be necessary to have a local resource to help with the leg work. If the senior citizen is unable to perform some or all of the actions necessary to secure their finances, a fiduciary may be necessary to assist. In some cases, Adult Protective Services can assist as well, although they have limited resources.
Many of these actions can be overwhelming for the victims and their family members; and that is one reason the “Stop Senior Thefts” project exists.
For more information on the services we provide, please visit our How We Help page.
If you need assistance, would like to schedule an educational seminar, or would like to help our project, please contact us.
Additional resources for elder financial fraud can be found here.