With consumers over fifty owning the majority of America’s financial assets, financial exploitation is the quickest form of elder abuse. Adult protective services agencies reported that half of senior fraud, or the wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain, was perpetrated by “familiar faces” who are trusted by the elderly – family, pastor, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, caregivers, attorneys, bank employees, doctors or nurses – and not by telephones scammers, although the numbers are growing.
Children or other family members misuse their position as the person’s power of attorney and commonly misappropriate funds, property or valuables while applying undue influence on the person to change their Will. Raising awareness is the first step to nabbing these heartless perpetrators when they least expect it.
The crime of the century
What is the first thing adult children do naturally after learning Mom is writing too many checks? They seize control of the checkbook and eradicate her financial independence through power of attorney or conservatorship. Clearly, while not all adult children are dishonest, 90 percent of reported abusers are family members or trusted others.
Americans aged 65 and older who report being victimized by financial fraud is one in five, but since only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported to the authorities, that number is likely much higher, according to a recent MetLife study.
The illegal or improper use of an older family member’s finances or property without their informed consent or where consent has been gained by fraud, manipulation or duress is becoming more prevalent, hurtful and expensive to victims’ families than ever before. The amount of funds lost in elder financial fraud, according to the National Council on Aging, is a whopping $36.5 billion every year.
Pure and simple financial exploitation
Defined as the unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property, financial exploitations the perpetrator will attempt are:
– Steal cash, income checks or household goods
– Forge the elder’s signature
– Engage in identity theft
They will try scams that target elders:
– Announcement of a “prize” but must pay money to claim
– Phony charities
– Investment fraud
– Loved one in jail or some other trouble and needing money
Warning signs of elder financial abuse and fraud:
– Larger than usual, or more frequent withdrawals or unusual payments
– Abnormal signatures on Mom’s checks written out to unfamiliar names
– Changes in the Power of Attorney, Wills and Property Titles – especially the changes to remove the older adult or add a caregiver
– Loss of control over finances including bank statements that no longer go to the older person, or they are not aware of their present financial provisions
– Long lost relatives, caregivers and new friends show unexpected love or interest to a senior
– Mistakes connected to memory loss like making the senior believe they made errors such as unpaid bills due to lack of appropriate nutrition or hygiene and increased instances of losing or not finding their personal belongings. (Source: seniorliving.org)
Financial abuse is widespread
Most victims of abuse are older women who have no family or friends nearby, and those who have memory problems, dementia and disabilities. Obviously, it can happen to any older person, but it often affects those who depend on others for help with the everyday activities of daily living. Financial fraud can start out like this:
1. A withdrawal request for a large amount of money from a brokerage account. Her son calls to tell the advisor that his mother is convinced that she needs the money now for a large purchase and won’t take no for an answer.
2. A designated senior’s power of attorney requests $40,000 from client’s annuity. She says it’s a loan to her son and will likely need another large disbursement in the near future for renovations to her home.
3. A request for a beneficiary change on his life insurance policy. As he struggles with his security information, a woman on the phone with him (his “nurse”) says he is disabled and is requesting she become the beneficiary.
If you or someone you know has faced or is facing similar situations, find local resources at National Center on Elder Abuse. If you think someone is urgent danger, call 911 or your local police right away.