One of the sad truths about our society is that there are those who financially prey on others.
Among the most tragic of cases are those involving the financial abuse of the elderly.
It's hard to deal with these situations because many seniors prefer to remain in charge of their finances throughout life.
As a result, as their faculties decline, they become easier marks from the unscrupulous who would get them to make outrageously expensive purchases, or involve them in investment fraud schemes.
While these acts of financial elder abuse are discouraging and you need to watch out for scammers from the outside, you also need to be on the watch for signs that caregivers and family members may be perpetrating some forms of financial elder abuse. The MetLife Mature Market Institute recently found that trusted caregivers/family members are involved in 55% of cases of financial elder abuse.
Signs of Financial Elder Abuse
It's important that you be on the lookout for signs of financial elder abuse. First of all, realize that it can be difficult to pinpoint cases that seem rather innocuous. Some family members may not even think of what they are doing as financial abuse. They may take a valuable object (without permission) that they feel they “deserve” and that will come to them after a parent dies, or they might dip into a joint account a little too often in “emergency” situations and use some of the money that belongs to the senior.
Realize that these actions constitute elder abuse. Here are some of the signs that a senior you know may be a victim of elder abuse:
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- Valuable objects disappear
- Someone new enters the picture and begins isolating the senior from friends and family
- Large credit transactions
- Suspicious new joint accounts opened
- Excitement over paperwork that promises increased Medicare or Social Security benefits once personal information is turned over to a representative (find out how this “representative” contacted the senior)
- Constant collect calls from overseas numbers (we had to change my grandparents' number since they kept seeing charges for calls from Jamaica, Russia, and Southeast Asia)
- Large withdrawals of cash
- Checks made out to cash
- Increasing amount of small “subscriptions” being automatically deducted from the account
- Signature on checks looks different from before
- Signs that the senior is afraid of a caregiver
All of these are signs that someone might be abusing a senior financially. Additionally, watch for signs that the senior becomes defensive suddenly, and doesn't want to talk about his or her financial situation. This can be a sign that he or she is aware — and embarrassed — that he or she fell victim to a scam. While it isn't pleasant to go through your parents' or grandparents' finances and look for signs that something is wrong, or watch for signs that someone is taking advantage of them, it needs to be done. You need to stop it as quickly as you can, before it gets any worse.
How to Report Financial Elder Abuse
Once you suspect that financial elder abuse is taking place, it's time to consider your options. First of all, check with your city or state to find out how to contact Adult Protective Services. Report the abuse to Adult Protective Services, and then complain to the state attorney general's office. You should also file a police report.
You might also need to check into local courts (probate or some sort of civil court) if someone is abusing power of attorney, or if a trustee is perpetrating the financial abuse. You might need to challenge someone's role as conservator or guardian in order to get the abuse to stop; it might even be necessary to have a temporary restraining order issued so that the abuse stops while you gather the necessary evidence.
A good resource for understanding elder abuse, including financial abuse, is the National Center on Elder Abuse. You want to ensure that your loved ones are protected, and that their money lasts long enough to properly meet their needs over time. As a result, it's important that you watch for signs that someone is taking financial advantage of the seniors in your life, and take action if there is evidence of financial elder abuse.