Can Elder Financial Abuse Be Stopped?

Can elder financial abuse be stopped
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The financial exploitation of elderly people comes at a great cost: It costs victims as much as $36.5 billion each year, according to the National Council on Aging. It can also be more difficult to detect than physical abuse and neglect because it’s often done by family members, trusted friends and caregivers.

The numbers are chilling. One in ten Americans age 60+ has experienced elder abuse. One of the most common forms of elder abuse is financial, says a recent article from Forbes titled “What Is Elder Financial Abuse—And How Do We Prevent It?”

Financial elder abuse is defined as when someone illegally or improperly uses an older person’s money for their own use. Older people are easy victims for obvious reasons. They may be mentally vulnerable, suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. They may also be lonely and find the company of a new “friend” is so delightful that it impairs their judgment.

Financial elder abuse occurs most often from adult children but also in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Be on the watch for those new friends who enter senior’s lives, especially if they seek to limit contact with family members.

Caregivers or nursing staff have access to residents’ possessions, including checkbooks, ATM cards, and credit cards. Regularly monitoring an aging parent’s bank accounts should be part of caregiving by adult children. The monitor should immediately report unusual transactions, large withdrawals, or unlikely purchases by credit card to their bank or credit card company.

Less obvious and harder to track is when someone forces a nursing home resident to sign legal documents transferring ownership of homes, cars, bank accounts, and even investment accounts. They may also be pressured into creating a new will.

Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • New names are being added to bank accounts or on credit cards.
  • Finding unpaid bills, letters from collection agencies, or past due notices from creditors, especially when the person has sufficient funds.
  • Relatives who suddenly show up and want to be involved with an aging senior, including estranged children.
  • The unexpected transfer of any asset to someone, not a family member.
  • Any change in habits concerning money, including someone who was never worried about money suddenly being concerned about paying bills.

The elderly are often scared to report being victimized. They may fear a further loss of control over their lives or be embarrassed to have been scammed. If a caregiver is stealing, they may also be physically threatened or frightened of losing their familiar care provider.

Talk to your estate planning attorney, speak with the local Adult Protective Services office, or contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline if you are concerned about a financially exploited loved one.  If you believe a loved one is in physical danger, contact the local police. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 9, 2021) “What Is Elder Financial Abuse—And How Do We Prevent It?”