It is estimated that nearly one in five Americans over age 65 become victims of financial elder abuse every year, costing them approximately $3 billion. Research also suggests that instances of financial elder abuse are severely underreported, with only about one in 25 cases actually making it to the authorities or news reporters. Several factors play a role in this underreporting, but often elders are too embarrassed to disclose when they have been victimized, while others lack the cognitive ability to recognize that the abuse is even taking place. Therefore, it is important for you to be able to recognize and prevent financial elder abuse of your loved ones.
A recently published article suggests 8 simple ways to prevent your loved one from being a victim of financial elder abuse.
1. Educate your loved ones. Talk to the seniors in your life regularly about potential problems and do not wait for them to reach out to you with concerns. Maintain a strong, trusting relationship and make sure to ease any potential embarrassment.
2. Go with an outsider. With nearly 80 percent of elder fraud cases attributed to close family members, it can be wise to choose a detached third-party to help manage your senior’s financial holdings. A power-of-attorney (POA) gives a person legal authority to act on another person’s behalf and is often a smart choice for handling a senior’s finances. If your loved one chooses to assign a POA, make sure you are involved in the process and maintain strict limits on the types of transactions that may be accomplished. Assigning joint-POA’s is also a good idea.
3. Register on the do-not-call list. Research suggests that women over 60 who live alone are extremely vulnerable targets for telemarketing scams. Although you cannot stop all calls, listing a phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry is a small protective step you and your loved one can take. Registration is free and easy. Also remember to remind your loved ones not to give out personal information over the phone.
4. Monitor investments. Visit the North American Securities Regulators Association before your loved one makes any investments or contacts a broker. A regulator from this website can verify that a chosen broker is properly licensed and can provide you with his or her important background information.
5. Don’t fall for free lunches. Financial workshops offering “free lunches” to seniors are an ever-increasing way of luring seniors into a scam. It has been found that more than 10 percent of these events include fraudulent practices.
6. Monitor the mail. Assist your loved one in sifting through the mail and be on the lookout for bank or credit card statements bearing another’s name or contact information. Be wary of unusual magazine subscriptions and always shred new credit card offers and bank statements.
7. Check credit reports. Ensure your senior is not a victim of identity theft or fraud by continuously monitoring their credit report. Free reports are available from the three major credit bureaus every 12 months.
8. Beware of isolation. Be a constant, loving presence in your loved one’s life to prevent them from feeling lost, abandoned, or isolated. Those prone to take advantage of elders do so when the senior is most vulnerable. Involve your family and make sure that all maintain an active role in protecting your loved ones from financial elder abuse.
If you suspect a senior is being financially abused, report the situation to the proper authorities who can then make a decision about whether or not to investigate. In California, reports can be made to the local county Adult Protective Services Agency or to local law enforcement. Also, suspected elder abuse of any kind may reported to the National Center on Elder Abuse.
Christopher C. Walton is a California elder abuse attorney with experience litigating cases involving financial fraud. If you suspect your loved one has suffered from abuse or neglect, please call (866) 338-7079 for a free and confidential consultation.
“8 ways to prevent financial abuse against seniors,” by Andrew Housser
“Fight Financial Elder Abuse,” by Kathy Black and Kathleen Houseweart