Sadly, financial abuse of elders is not uncommon. It’s even sadder when the abusers are the children or other relatives. Financial abuse of elders is a huge problem! According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, over 2 million senior citizens are affected by financial abuse. It is the number one crime committed against people over age 65.
It is important for everyone to be aware of the signs that financial abuse may be happening. Here are a few signs to watch for: (1) Sudden changes in a senior’s banking or financial habits or names added to accounts; (2) Large unexplained credit card charges or large bank withdrawals; (3) Sudden changes in estate planning documents like powers of attorney and wills; or (4) Seniors who appear to be bullied or directed by someone else, refuse to speak up for themselves, or appear nervous, especially when asked about their financial matter.
There are some common situations where elders could be affected by financial abuse. We have seen many instances where a senior, often a widow or widower who is alone, lonely and aging, fall prey to the many mail and phone solicitations that we all receive. A friendly voice on the phone tells them they can receive a wonderful gift or win a prize. They only have to send in a “small fee” for processing, and the senior sends in money for all the requests. There are also door to door “salesmen” who ask for money for painting, roofing or other repair work. Stock brokers may encourage unnecessary frequent purchases or sales to earn commissions. And, most sadly, we do see children or friends that the senior trusts taking advantage of that trust by asking for money or even bullying the senior into giving them money or purchasing items for them.
There are steps to take to prevent this kind of abuse! First, have a heart to heart talk with the person. Maybe they will realize what they are doing and learn to recognize the warning signs themselves. Also if loneliness is contributing, be the friendly caller and encourage socialization. Put yourself on the bank accounts with a restriction that requires 2 signatures for withdrawals (with the permission of the elder, of course). Watch the mail, have duplicate bank statements sent to your home. You may even want to change the mailing address to your own. Get the senior on “Do not call” and “Do not mail” lists by going on-line at www.donotcall.gov or calling 1-888-382-1222, or mailpref.org to stop unwanted mail delivery. Change the victim’s telephone number, even to one that is unlisted, if the calls don’t stop. If these tips don’t work, you may have to report the suspected abuse to the county adult protective services. They will investigate the report, and will not release the name of the caller. Finally, if the person is not competent, you may need to obtain a guardianship over them to allow court intervention as a last resort. Help protect yourself and others from financial abuse!
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