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How to Spot and Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

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Many of us are aware of the sobering statistic that one in ten elderly people are abused in nursing homes each year. But when we think of abuse, we tend to think about physical or emotional abuse. We don’t always consider financial abuse.

We should, because elder financial abuse is one of the fastest growing forms of elder abuse. According to a 2018 Bloomberg article, America’s elderly lose $37 billion each year to scams, nursing home fraud, exploitation by family members, and other financial exploitation.

What is Elder Financial Abuse?

Elder financial abuse occurs when a person illegally or improperly takes or uses the money, assets or property of an elderly person. Most incidences of elderly financial exploitation include deception, intimidation, or coercion to gain access to a senior’s finances.

What are Common Types of Financial Exploitation?

Although over over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by the older person’s family members, it can also be committed by caregivers, nursing home employees, friends, doctors, nurses, attorneys, businesspeople, pastors, bank employees and scammers.

Five percent of seniors indicated some form of perceived financial mistreatment in the recent past, including:

  • Theft or embezzlement
  • Fraud
  • Unapproved use of power of attorney
  • Signature forgery
  • Transfer of property/assets coercion
  • Unapproved or unknown use of funds
  • Investment exploitation
  • Deeds, wills, and/or power of attorney changes by force or deception

Because many elderly victims are too embarrassed or afraid to report the crime, only 1 in 44 elder financial abuse cases are ever reported.

What are Common Scams that Take Place?

While most of the elder abuse reported involve the victim’s relatives or people they trust, scams of the elderly by strangers are also prevalent. Common scams include:

Medicare Fraud

A scammer posed as a Medicare representative to get personal data for financial access or provide bogus services to fraudulently bill Medicare.  

Funeral & Cemetery Fraud

  1. A disreputable funeral home will sell unnecessary add-ons or include unnecessary or inflated charges in a bill for their products/services.
  2. In an effort to extort money, a scammer, with information from the obituaries, will call or attend a funeral with a demand of payment for a non-existent debt.

Telemarketing/Phone Scams

In the US, seniors make about twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. Scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on the elderly, sometimes defrauding the same person more than once with fraud such as:

  • The Pigeon Drop – a scammer offers to split a large sum of money if the person will make a “good faith” payment.
  • The Fake Accident – a scammer pretends to be a relative that was in an accident and convinces the victim to send or wire money to help with hospital charges.
  • The Charity Solicitation – a scammer calls soliciting money for a fake charity, often for relief for people affected by a natural disaster.

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

This is usually an internet scam based on lower drug prices. Not only can somebody pay for something that might not help them, they may be paying for something that can hurt them.

Bogus Anti-Aging Products

From fake botox treatments to fraudulent homeopathic remedies, scammers play on vanity to sell high-priced yet worthless and sometimes dangerous cures for old age.

Other scams directed at the elderly include sweepstakes and lottery scams, reverse mortgage scams and investment schemes.

Preventing Elder Financial Abuse

According to the AARP, memory loss and loneliness can impair financial judgment in older people, making them targets for elder financial abuse. Signs to tell that an elderly loved one is a potential prey for financial exploitation include:

  • Difficulty calculating change
  • Difficulty balancing their checkbook
  • Forgetting to pay bills or rent
  • Being unfamiliar with financial matters

Signs that indicate an elderly person is being exploited financially include:

  • Erratic withdrawals or purchasing behavior
  • Sudden change of will
  • Sudden change of power of attorney
  • Signs of physical or mental abuse
  • A caregiver is trying to isolate the person

You can help the situation by:

  • Monitoring mental and physical health
  • Simplifying and consolidating financial accounts
  • Keeping an inventory of financial documents and legal information
  • Using credit monitoring services
  • Offering to help with taxes and money management
  • Creating a spending plan (including charitable donations)
  • Setting up a power of attorney
  • Watching for suspicious financial activity
  • Asking the nursing home if their staff is trained on the signs (and consequences) of elder financial abuse
  • Reducing telemarketing calls by registering their phone numbers with the National Do Not Call registry (DoNotCall.gov, 888-382-1222)
  • Stopping landline robocall scams with Nomorobo (Nomorobo.com)
  • Stopping smartphone robocall scams with the free app Hiya (Hiya.com)

Contact DKRY About Elder Financial Abuse

With regional groups forming such as the Elder Justice Task Force  and the Middlesex County Elderly Abuse & Exploitation Team, we can be assured that more and more people are fighting to help senior citizens, but you should be involved, too, taking steps to monitor and help when necessary.

If you or a loved one has any questions or comments regarding elder financial abuse, please contact us today.

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