Recognizing and Preventing Elderly Financial Abuse

The American Bar Association reports that one in 10 Americans over the age of 60 will experience some form of elder abuse. And according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) only one in 45 cases is actually reported!

Most people can’t imagine that physical, emotional or financial abuse would ever occur in their family. The best way to ensure that your loved ones are free from abuse by family members or caregivers is to recognize the warning signs, communicate, and have a plan in place to reduce risk.

Elder abuse is defined as an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver and/or a trusted person that creates risk or harm to an older adult – usually adults over 60.  Bruises, weight loss, sleep issues, confusion – are often dismissed as common during ‘the aging process’ but should not be taken lightly. Financial elderly abuse is increasingly common and can be catastrophic if not detected and stopped. Unexplained checks to strangers and questionable charities or increased stress about finances, when there shouldn’t be any, should raise red flags.

Can you answer the following questions about an elderly loved one?

Who manages your loved one’s money on a day-to-day basis?

How are your loved one’s bills paid?

  • Has your loved one run out of money at the end of the month or have they been worrying about any recent financial decisions?
  • Does anyone else have access to their accounts or assets, or to sensitive documents and passwords, or asked for access to these assets and documents?
  • Is someone else named as an authorized person on their bank or investment accounts?
  • Has anyone recently asked them for a loan?
  • Has anyone asked them to change their will?
  • Has your loved one given power of attorney for their financial affairs or health care decisions?

If you cannot answer these questions, you may wish to have a discussion about putting a system of checks and balances into place to minimize the possibility of financial fraud. And keep talking. This important conversation should be ongoing and will become easier over time once the foundation has been laid.

Here are some more tips that will help prevent financial elder abuse that are easy to implement:

  • Become familiar with your loved one’s financial information and current estate plan documents and know where they are kept.
  • Review the financial information and estate planning documents at least annually. Wishes may change and confirming that those wishes are noted in the proper documents will provide comfort that those wishes will be honored.
  • Get to know you loved one’s ‘team’. Establishing relationships with your loved one’s attorney, tax adviser, financial adviser and medical caregivers before they are needed can make the process smoother and less stressful when they do become necessary.
  • Provide respite for caregivers, especially if they are family members.
  • Stop by unexpectedly if your loved one is frequently alone with a caregiver. Check to see if anything is missing, like valuables or checks. Make sure the physical space is clean. If your loved one is nervous or uncomfortable, or whispers so as not to have the caregiver overhear…there may be an issue.
  • Gently educate your loved one about current solicitation scams. This information is available from the Oregon Department of Justice.  Subscribe to their Scam Alert Network so that you can share the latest scams targeting the elderly.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

 

What To Do If You Suspect Abuse

If you suspect that your loved one has been subject to abuse that is not life threatening, contact your state’s Adult Protective Services. You do not have to prove abuse is occurring – agency professionals are responsible for investigating your concerns.

If you think your loved one may have been a victim of fraud or other abuse, don’t be squeamish about asking them what has or is transpiring. And, if they are in immediate danger, call the police or 911, as soon as possible.