How advisors can help clients avoid financial elder abuse

'It's nothing new – it's just the medium that's changed'

How advisors can help clients avoid financial elder abuse

As World Elder Abuse Awareness Day approaches mid-month and awareness is rising about how elders are being increasingly targeted by scammers, financial advisors can become even more instrumental in helping them and their loved ones guard against being duped.

“This kind of abuse is now so common and widespread that it’s not uncommon to hear a story that a friend or a friend of a friend fell victim,” Jason Peters, the director of wealth management for Valley First Credit Union in Kelowna, told Wealth Professional.

“It’s nothing new. It’s really just the medium that’s changed. Con men, or con people, have been around forever. In the past, they used to knock on our doors. So, prior generations learned how to spot them in face-to-face interactions. Now they don’t knock on the door. They come knocking through technology, so we have to develop different skills.”

Peters, who has been a financial advisor, oversees Valley First’s advisors and helps them identify what their clients can watch for – as well as how they can prevent such abuse.

He noted that advisors should remind their clients that these scammers are professionals and could also be tied to organized crime.

“They’re good at what they do. They receive training. They learn and, if something doesn’t work, they adapt and evolve, which means that we have to as well,” he said. “There are literally boot camps, training people, for people to learn how to hone their craft in taking advantages of others through electronic means. The perpetrators are adapting just as fast as technology is changing.”

Peters suggested advisors include this topic on their agenda when meeting clients. They can then open up the conversation and recommend that their clients remain electronically safe by staying alert and slowing down when responding to texts and emails that may look a bit suspicious.

Advisors should also highlight romance scams, which are one of the most popular forms of abuse, as they tend to prey on seniors who have either lost a loved one or don’t have a partner. These scammers will play the long-game since they can garner larger sums of money than the quick $100 or $200 from other scams, so they will prey upon the person’s vulnerabilities to get them to wire money. Peters said older clients are more vulnerable because they may not want to be alone.

“I’ve actually directly spoken to clients in the past to caution them and say that this has all the signs of being a romance scam. But, here’s the thing: love is blind. How do you tell someone not to feel a certain way about another person, even if they’ve never met? That’s why that one can be so tragically effective,” he said, noting that the RCMP and Canadian Bankers’ Association both have good website information on what to be wary of in romance scams.  

Another scam to be wary of is emails or texts that purport to be from a reputable courier company that claims it has a package for delivery. It asks receivers to click on a link to accept delivery, which is successful because so many now are ordering online. He suggested that advisors warn clients to watch for a sense of urgency in the email, such as “final notice” or “third attempt to deliver”.

“It has the effect that we feel that we have to do this quickly, so we dispense with the normal defensive mechanisms of saying: ‘hold on. Do I really have a package? Let me look at this email a bit more closely because I don’t remember getting a first or second notice.’”

The links could allow the scammers to access someone’s computer in order to obtain their passwords, which is a little more sophisticated scheme.   

Peters noted that advisors can also alert younger clients to the scams so they can raise it with their parents. They could ask them how they are keeping their passwords safe. That could allow them to have the discussion that no legitimate organization will ask for someone’s password on the phone.

Advisors could also ensure that the clients – or their parents – are aware that they need to keep their wallets and handbags safe in coffee shops and restaurants and never turn their back on those, Given the opportunity, the scammers can take someone’s identification or credit card information without stealing the card or purse. So, the victim won’t even know it’s happened until harm’s done.

Peters noted that as his advisors raise the issue, they’re hearing stories of people who have fallen victim to scammers and may feel ashamed that it’s happened.

“I think talking about it is one of the best weapons that we have because, if we can admit that we got duped, then people have a chance to listen and learn. It’s when we’re ashamed and go silent that someone else is going to fall victim to the same thing. So, we’re raising it with clients and encouraging the discussion in small group settings. Most communities have seniors’ living facilities, which is a great place to get some groups of people together and put this out there for awareness.”