Fighting back against elder financial exploitation


June 1, 2021

By Jamaal Mobley, Director, Communications

Imagine receiving a call from someone claiming to be an overseas attorney who urgently says your grandson has been arrested on trumped up charges and needs bail money immediately, or he will be sent to prison. A younger person then speaks, begging for help. He is agitated but it sounds like your grandson, who you haven’t seen in a while but know he likes to travel.

The attorney provides wire instructions for his firm’s account. $200,000 is a lot of money, but you want to keep your grandson safe. The decision is excruciating…

According to the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists, senior investors lose between $3 billion - $40 billion annually.  Although many perpetrators have no connection to their victims, a report by the Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans found that in 36 percent of cases, the victim knows the perpetrator personally.

As World Elder Abuse Awareness Month begins, it is important to acknowledge the impact of these too-often unspoken crimes and discuss prevention strategies. 

Be aware and share

Senior investors are targeted because:

  • Over 25% of seniors suffer from either mild cognitive impairment or dementia
  • They hold the highest level of assets of any age group
  • They are often more isolated, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to be aware and share. Maintain a trusted network of family, friends and neighbors who can look out for each other.  Even if you’ve largely handled things yourself until now, consider including a financial consultant, planner or advisor in your network as you get older.  Sharing tips and experiences is one of the most valuable tools available to help spot signs of a scam, exploitation or cognitive impairment.   

DJ quote

“At Charles Schwab, we’re here to partner with you and your loved ones to prevent and address exploitation.  Staying aware of the risks and building a trusted network is the best way to protect the financial future you’ve earned.”

D.J. Johnson, head of Schwab’s Financial Crimes Risk Management organization.
D.J. Johnson, head of Schwab’s Financial Crimes Risk Management organization

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Spotting common scams

Joel Sauer, Managing Director, Financial Crimes Risk Management explained during a recent episode of Financial Decoder that “it’s important to understand that fraudsters targeting potentially vulnerable senior investors are often global criminal enterprises, not just one person. These organized groups use sophisticated techniques to take advantage of investors they believe are isolated and don’t have anyone to help them.”

While anyone can fall victim to a scam, some tactics target older investors. Here are a few we have seen:

  • Person-in-need: criminals pretend to be a loved one (e.g., a grandchild) under threat and need money right away to fix a fictitious problem.

  • Romance: fraudsters present themselves as potential romantic partners to establish a relationship and exploit desires for companionship, followed by urgent requests for money. 

  • Investment opportunity: impostor, with little detail, presents an exciting new investment.

  • Fraud investigation: criminals pose as government officials or company fraud investigators asking for personal information or money to help recover funds or ‘trap’ the true fraudster.

  • Technology: fraudster impersonates a tech support team member asking for remote access to the victim’s devices and confidential account information to ‘fix’ a fabricated issue.

Romance Scam video

In the Romance scam, fraudsters present themselves as potential romantic partners to establish a relationship and exploit desires for companionship, followed by urgent requests for money.

Watch the video to learn what red flags to look for and avoid being a victim.

Break up with the Romance Scam

Break up with the Romance Scam

Opens in popup+ Transcript

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Cyber-Savvy Tips from Schwab

Break up with the Romance Scam

A young woman in a green skirt and yellow top is standing and gestures toward an older woman in a blue skirt and green top, who is sitting.

Young woman: Online scammers are constantly trying to take advantage of people like my mom.

Older woman: But we’re too smart for that.

The younger woman now appears within a frame representing a computer screen. On the screen is a chat window labeled “Senior Dating.” A small picture of the mom is labeled “SassyGranny,” while a larger picture of an older, bald man in glasses is labeled “Fred Realman.” In the chat area, SassyGranny has entered “Want to meet for coffee?”

Young woman: One of the most common is the Romance Scam. Older people can get roped in by chatting online if they’re looking for companionship.

In the frame, the mom takes the place of the young woman, and in the chat window, Fred responds, “I’d love to!”

Older woman: At first, it’s all lovey-dovey.

The mom drops away and the young woman pops into view. In the chat window, Fred adds, “But I can’t, I’m overseas.”

Young woman: They want to meet up. But if they have an excuse or need money to meet, that’s the first red flag.

She holds up a small red flag.

The older woman replaces the young woman in the frame, and additional chat from Fred appears: “I need funds... Can you send money for a ticket?”

Older woman: Next thing you know, they’re asking for money for “travel expenses.”

She makes “air quotes” with her fingers.

Young woman: That’s the second red flag.

She holds up another red flag.

The frame goes away and the two women are standing next to each other.

Older woman: And that’s when it’s time break up your online romance.

The frame briefly reappears, and a large red “X” is drawn over the picture of Fred Realman. Then the two women are back.

Young woman: If they ask for money...

The older woman waves goodbye.

Older woman: ...It’s time to say, “Bye-bye, honey.”

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Voiceover: Learn more at

Brand music plays.

Onscreen text: Charles Schwab logo

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Next steps

Some basic next steps to combat exploitation: 

To discuss specific exploitation concerns or other questions regarding your account, contact your Schwab Financial Consultant or call 800-435-4000.