Much has been written about financial abuse of the elderly. It has always been a problem but more prevalent in the last few years with new opportunities with online access. This fast growing form of abuse is most times perpetrated by family members – making the violation of trust even more devastating. However the growth of scams committed by professionals is also on the rise.
The National Adult Protective Services Association cites the following statistics:
In many ways, financial abuse is similar to physical and emotional abuse but with one key difference. In many cases the person who is being abused has given consent to the person who is stealing their money. They’ve trusted that person and given them permission to use their money. It makes it a bit more difficult to prove.
It is also different in a domestic situation – such as their own home – and in an institutional setting, such as assisted living or a nursing home. Family members or caregivers can access their financial information, checking accounts or savings accounts. In an intuitional setting it is much more difficult.
The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse cites these examples of financial abuse:
Most often it is a family member. Those entrusted to take care of them are the ones most likely to betray the trust and commit these crimes.
The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse also cites the most likely perpetrators of these crimes:
Family members, including sons, daughters, grandchildren, or spouses. They may:
Predatory individuals who seek out vulnerable seniors with the intent of exploiting them. They may:
Unscrupulous professionals or business persons, or persons posing as such. They may:
Individuals that are more isolated, have physical or mental impairments and are lonely are the highest risk targets for financial abuse.
Forbes Magazine recently had an article on elder financial abuse and listed this four factors as high risk factors:
Poor Physical Health. Those who are physically compromised are unlikely to be focused on financial matters. They are often vulnerable to swindles.
Cognitive Impairment. When the ability to do basic things like read a banking statement or balance a checkbook declines, that’s when you have to pay attention. Those with declining math skills will not be asking important questions about new investing “opportunities.”
Difficulty in Activities of Daily Living. If a person has trouble feeding themselves, bathing or shopping, that’s a big set of red flags. That also means that they will have trouble managing money.
Social Isolation. Are they all alone? Then they won’t have the support of a network of peers, who could warn about scams.
There are five signs that can indicate financial abuse:
Any of these signs warrant investigation. Careful management of the elder’s bank accounts and credit cards is essential. Most family members do not want to confront the caretaker, who is more than likely a family member, with their suspicions. However if suspicions arise, they must be addressed before it goes any further.
If you feel the person is in imminent danger, call 911 and get help.
An article in Next Avenue listed some steps to take with your loved one if you suspect financial abuse:
Discuss your concerns with your loved one, but make sure you are patient, understanding and nonjudgmental. Many victims of financial abuse and exploitation do not report the abuse due to embarrassment.
Point out the red flags you are seeing and gently ask what is going on. If they allow it, go over their banking and financial statements with them and/or discuss them with their attorney, financial planner or banker.
Subtly “challenge” the suspected exploiter. Often asking probing questions in a non-threatening tone will deter the person because they know you are on to them.
For things like mail fraud, repair scams, credit card abuse or theft of valuables or property, call the local police department about an “illegal taking.”
Where the financial abuse is due to cognitive or physical impairment, make an anonymous call to your county’s Department of Senior and Adult Services or your state’s Elder Abuse Hotline.
Getting the money back is challenging and hard to prove. But it needs to be stopped before all the money is depleted for their care. Banking and legal authorities need to be notified to protect the elder from further harm – and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
The American Bankers Association has tips for seniors on how to preplan and protect themselves from potential abuse.
Careful planning can help prevent financial abuse. Talk with a trusted financial and legal advisor can help eliminate some potential problems. However, stay vigilant with elders and their finances. Even with the best planning, perpetrators – including trusted family members – can still take advantage of a vulnerable elderly person.