The elderly are often targets of scammers and unscrupulous individuals seeking to financially exploit them. Predators use scare tactics, manipulation, and empty promises to con older adults out of money, assets, and property. The perpetrator can be a stranger or someone the victim knows. Oftentimes incidents of elder financial abuse are never reported because the victims are ashamed or embarrassed that they were defrauded. It’s important to recognize the warning signs of elder financial abuse and protect our seniors. Here are some helpful resources and information to guide you. Keep in mind that discussing money matters can be a very sensitive subject so be sure to approach the task with empathy.
As mentioned previously, financial abuse of the elderly can come from a stranger or someone the senior knows and trusts. There are countless stories of seniors being taken advantage of by caregivers, professionals, clergy, friends, and even family. Here are some common examples:
- A person legally obligated to handle the elderly person’s finances may not use the funds for necessities the senior needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, medicine and health care.
- A caregiver may pressure or outright con the older adult out of their property or possessions through promises to care for them.
- Family members may use family ties to coerce the elderly to give them access to bank accounts, valuables, or credit cards.
- There are even instances where seniors have been tricked into signing over power of attorney to people that only use the authority to defraud them.
Spotting the abuse may be difficult, but some telltale signs can clue you in to a potential problem.
The Red Flags
Changes in a person’s financial patterns can be a sign that they are being exploited. Here are a few warnings to look out for:
- Unusual bank account activity, such as large or frequent withdrawals.
- Money missing from accounts.
- Assets put into someone else’s name, especially if that person is unfamiliar to the family.
- Credit card balances suddenly increase.
- Unpaid bills.
- Missing possessions.
- Closing savings accounts without regards to penalties.
- New joint accounts opened or credit cards showing up in the seniors name.
- New activity on previously inactive accounts.
- Large unexpected loans or reverse mortgage taken out.
- Checks written as “gifts” to someone unfamiliar or made out to “cash”.
- A caregiver, relative, or friend conducting financial transactions without authorization or proper documentation.
- Sudden or unauthorized changes to the elder’s will.
- Changes in the senior’s mood, behavior, or spending pattern.
- The elder does not know how much income they receive.
- Financial decisions like investments or purchases are made that the elder does not fully understand.
- Sudden or suspicious changes in wills or powers of attorney.
Some of the warning signs may be clear while others more subtle. If you suspect that your loved one is being taken advantage of financially, don’t hesitate to speak with them right away. Talk to others that are frequently around the senior such as caregivers, friends, and social workers to see if they notice anything suspicious.
Where to Seek Help
If you suspect elder fraud or financial abuse, it is important to report it. It is the job of the authorities, professionals, and regulators to investigate the situation, but they won’t know unless it’s reported. It is often difficult to know where to turn. Here are a few resources that may help you.
- Promptly contact law enforcement or local police to report immediate danger.
- Adult Protective Services can help victims that live alone or in a non-institutional setting.
- Eldercare.gov provides support services for seniors and their families. Help can be found on the eldercare.acl.gov website or by calling (800) 677-1116.
- Contact the bank, credit union, and/or credit card company to report suspected fraud.
- If the fraud involves a professional, contact the licensing agency to file a complaint.
- Nursing home victims exploited by staff can contact the state’s nursing home ombudsman for help reporting abuse.
Seniors can be proactive in guarding against scams. For many reasons, the elderly are the targets of many different types of scams, including sweepstakes, investment, real estate, tech support, and work-from-home scams. Before you provide any personal information, do your research. Any offer that sounds too good to be true probably is. Never give your driver’s license, social security number, banking information, or access to your information to anyone that you have not checked out thoroughly. Don’t wire money, pay for goods or services with a gift cards, or send cash to anyone you don’t know or trust. Contact Business Consumer Alliance to check out a business or professional and to file a complaint, if needed.
Some other things you may want to consider are:
- Allowing a trusted relative or friend access to monitor transactions. If things don’t look right, have them take a look. You don’t have to allow them the right to access funds.
- If you need a trusted family member or friend to help you with bill paying or banking, consider a “convenience” or “agency” account. These accounts are set up so that your money is used for your benefit but they allow a relative or friend to assist with writing checks, paying bills, and other account business.
- Check with your financial institution for educational materials, resources, and events to help protect your money and avoid fraud.