For grandparents and other older family members, their best (and sometimes only) opportunity to find out what is going on in a grandchild’s life is through that grandchild’s posts on social media. The problem with that is that it is not only the grandkids who might be surfing your social media posts if you are a senior. Scam artists and other predators who prey on older victims may also be scouring your posts for helpful information. Let’s explore how social media can lead to elder abuse.
Financial Abuse of the Elderly
Sadly, elder abuse of all types occurs far more often than most people realize. Financial abuse of the elderly, however, is the most prevalent form of elder abuse in the United States. Accurate figures are difficult to come by in large part because the victims frequently fail to report the abuse. Nevertheless, conservative estimates tell us that one in 20 older adults admit some form of perceived financial mistreatment occurring in the recent past. In addition, there are over 5 million instances of financial exploitation with a senior victim each year in the U.S. Seniors are often targeted for financial exploitation because the reality is that they make excellent targets for several reasons, including:
- People over 50 control over 70 percent of the nation’s wealth.
- Older individuals tend to be more trusting.
- Seniors often do not know the value of their assets, particularly when the asset is real property that has appreciated considerably.
- Many elderly victims suffer from dementia and/or other physical or mental disabilities that make them easier targets.
- Older individuals are much less likely to be technologically savvy, making them easier to scam.
How Does Social Media Lead to Victimization?
Social media did not become the preferred method of communicating until well into the 21st century. Consequently, anyone over about 40 did not grow up with social media. Instead, they had to learn how to navigate and use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. That alone makes them vulnerable. Computer based scams that target the elderly are numerous and knew ones crop up every day. One of the most common of those scams is known as the “Granny Scam” because it preys on grandparents and their inherent desire and willingness to help a grandchild. In the Granny Scam, a perpetrator calls a senior and pretends to be the victim’s grandchild who is in trouble and needs a specific amount of money. The money might allegedly be to get out of jail, get a vehicle fixed, or replace money stolen from a purse. Often, the perpetrator gathers critical information about the target from social media before making the call. A single Facebook post, for instance, can provide a scammer with a wealth of information about the family dynamics. When the perpetrator makes the call, he/she may already know the grandchild’s name, the school he/she attends, parents and siblings’ names, the name of his/her significant other, and even details about a recent vacation or major achievement. The reality is that most seniors do not think twice about what they post nor do they fully understand social media privacy settings, making all that information available to any and all who wish to look for it.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to decrease your odds of becoming the victim of elder financial abuse, such as:
- Educate yourself about privacy settings. Make sure your settings aren’t set to “public” which allows anyone to see your posts. Do this once a month to ensure that they have not been changed or reset inadvertently – or ask your grandchild to do it for you.
- Less is more. Even if your privacy settings are set correctly, share sparingly. A single “share” by the wrong person, whose settings are not set on private, could completely negate all your efforts to keep your posts private.
- It’s O.K. to ignore friend requests. Seniors are particularly worried about being rude and tend to accept all friend requests as a result. This is not the time to worry about social graces. Do not accept friend requests unless you are certain you know the person making the request.
- Demand proof. If you get a call claiming someone is in trouble, ask for proof of the caller’s identity and the situation. Get a number to call back and do some fact checking.
- Create a family codeword. This works for all kinds of situations and is a remarkably simple way to verify the legitimacy of a situation.
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions or concerns about elder law, contact us at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.