Elderly members of our society are being targeted by scammers and family members with control of their finances, with some losing their life savings.
The CFFC's Fraud Education Manager, Bronwyn Groot, lent her voice to Elder Abuse Awareness Week run by Age Concern, and was interviewed by Radio Live host Mark Sainsbury on his Morning Talk programme. The hour-long interview included calls from listeners wanting to share their stories, and ask for Groot's advice.
Groot said the elderly were financially vulnerable in a number of ways - many were lonely and turned to online dating sites seeking companionship, only to be 'befriended' by scammers who convinced them to send them money.
Most still had landlines, allowing phone scammers to infiltrate their computers and bank accounts or convince them to transfer money; and some signed over power of attorney to people who were not trustworthy.
Age Concern estimated that one in 10 older people will experience elder abuse, and half of those suffer financial abuse; 75% of financial abuse was perpetrated by family members.
"Before you sign over power of attorney, always seek independent legal advice," says Groot. "Remember, you can have more than one person listed on that document. And if you enter into any arrangement with a family member that could affect your finances, such as contributing to the cost of a house for them that you will also live in, make sure you have a contract drawn up to protect your interests."
When it came to elderly people falling victim to scammers, Groot said the stories that crossed her desk daily were heartbreaking. "We've been working with a lady caught in a romance scam, who lost nearly $600,000 to a man she thought loved her and was going to come and live with her. We've had people phoned by scammers pretending to be from IRD, frightening them into sending money to cover a tax bill that doesn't exist. They are very sophisticated, and very convincing."
Groot says any kind of fear tactic or coercion is a red flag that the person you're communicating with might be trying to scam you.
"Don't be hurried into doing anything," she says. "Stop, think, say you'll call them back. Hang up and talk to someone else. Call back the organisation on their general number and they'll clarify for you whether the caller was legitimate."
Never give out your passwords or bank details, and don't send money overseas. It's usually impossible to reclaim once it's left our borders.
Family members who are worried that a relative may be being scammed need to gain the relative's trust to avoid the relative rejecting their help.
Elder abuse helpline: 0800 32 668 65