We’ve all heard about fraudsters and it’s important to be vigilant: but what if they are also someone you know? Here are some signs to watch out for, writes Susan Bonnici Estate Planning Solicitor at Equity Trustees.
Financial scams are on the rise. Research by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) shows the number of financial scams doubled in 2021 – and appears to be increasing this year.
Many of us have been exposed to or sadly been conned by some of these scammers – people phoning and pretending to represent well-known charities, companies and/or banks. Then there is the myriad of emails replicating organisations you’re familiar with and seeking your personal information or providing dangerous but disguised links to malware that hack into financial details stored on your computer. There are also phony investment schemes or scammers that reach out to try and convince you to send money or gifts.
A classic example is a scammer who hacks into people’s personal emails and sets up fraudulent tailored communications which mimic the relationship between a well-known company and the target. What follows is usually a request for payment of a bogus invoice, or even a more straightforward demand for money.
One of the most important clues about this scam is the request to change bank details. Another clue is that the tone of these types of emails is usually urgent as if the person is frustrated and needs the task done immediately. This creation of stress and anxiety on the individual responsible for making the payment can tempt less vigilance.
Sometimes fraudsters are even known to the target. For example, elder financial abuse is common, and these culprits tend to be close family, such as children or siblings of the intended victim.
One example is a man who had been estranged from his parent. The parent, an elderly man, in this case, had experienced a health event that brought his son back into his life. This physical access to his father, unfortunately, opened the door for the son to have access to his dad’s funds despite enduring powers of attorney already being established.
The son took his father to the bank and attempted to close an account with hundreds of thousands of dollars in it. The external trustee company reminded the bank about an independent enduring power of attorney which was in place and put a stop to the father being potentially defrauded by his own son.
There are also examples of people who demand their parents pay petrol money so the children can visit them in the nursing home. These ‘well-meaning’ offspring think it’s fine to take an unreasonable sum of money from their parent’s bank accounts just to reimburse themselves. What these family members don’t understand is that it’s not just fraud but also theft, and a form of elder abuse by taking advantage of someone in a virtually powerless position. It’s also a lot more difficult to spot due to the insidious nature of these actions which rely on that close family relationship to coerce, exert undue influence and force the outcome the child or person wants.
Accordingly, for older people, a big warning sign would be children who either haven’t previously been in touch with their parents, or for those who are currently involved with their parents, suddenly taking an interest in their finances, or offering to help, especially when it’s inconsistent with previous patterns of behaviour.
There are many different types of fraud to look out for and maintaining awareness and staying vigilant is vital.
It’s up to all of us to look out for scammers, particularly when it comes to more vulnerable or elderly people who are often more susceptible to being defrauded.