Ten Top Tips for Avoiding Elder Financial Abuse

“YOU’VE WON A LOTTERY!” screams the writing in red on the outside of the envelope. All you need to do is send in money for a processing fee and a check will be on its way with your name on it.

We’ve all heard the saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” If truth in advertising rules applied, the envelope would say “WE’RE TRYING TO RIP YOU OFF.”

But that’s just one of the more popular scams crooks try on older adults.

Kathy Holmes-Hardy, a social worker for the San Diego County Health and Human Service Agency Aging & Independence Services, provided east county seniors with several strategies for financial and physical self-defense at the San Diego County Library’s Spring Valley branch.

Holmes-Hardy said the latest trend in financial fraud is commonly referred to as the grandparents scam.

“Someone calls the older adult and identifies themselves as their grandchild,” she said. “They have obtained all their information such as the grandparents and family members’ names.

“They claim they are in the hospital, have been in a car accident or on an overseas trip and have been arrested.”

The scam is telling the grandparent that they need money for the accident deductible or bail and beg them not to tell their parents. They ask the older adult to wire money and promise to pay them back.

Holmes-Hardy said sometimes those scams have bilked seniors of upwards of $10,000. The perpetrators get the information for the phone calls from social media sites such as Facebook where teens post photos and names of family members.

Another popular method used to try to defraud older adults preys on emotions after a community has suffered the loss of a peace officer or firefighter. Callers will claim to be from a police officer or firefighter widow’s association seeking donations in the wake of the tragedy.

“Always check with the Better Business Bureau,” said Holmes-Hardy. “They rate charities, and you should make sure the charity uses at least 75 percent of donations directly on the cause they are benefiting.”

Here are 10 tips for preventing financial abuse:

1)      Check your bank accounts, credit card and investment statements every month.

2)      Make sure you check your legal or financial advisors references thoroughly.

3)      Read the fine print on all documents before signing and insist on getting a copy.

4)      Make sure you have an estate plan (no matter your financial position) and the person you have chosen to act on your behalf is someone you know you can trust.

5)      Make sure you know who you are donating to and how the money will be used before you give to any charitable cause.

6)      Do not respond to any sweepstakes, contest or prize offer that requires a purchase or a fee of any amount.

7)      If you are making a payment online, make sure you use your credit card (debit card purchases can’t be charged back or disputed similar to a credit card) and always look for the secure lock symbol on the payment site.

8)      Always lock up jewelry, check blanks and documents with financial information on them before you have someone come into your home such as a housekeeper, home health care worker, contractors, etc.

9)      Be careful on any phone call or email that you didn’t initiate – do you really know who you’re talking to on the other end?

10)   Obtain your credit report two or three times a year. Experian, Equifax and Trans Union are required to provide you a free copy of your credit report once a year. is the website maintained by the Federal Trade Commission.

For more information or to report elder and dependent adult abuse, call Adult Protective Services at 1-800-510-2020, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a situation appears to be life threatening or a crime is in progress, call 9-1-1 or your local law enforcement.

For more information on financial and elder abuse prevention, visit

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact