Oftentimes, people who believe that they are contributing to charity to help those less fortunate are being exploited by scammers. Auto call lists that easily identify older victims and the ubiquitous online world of emails, fake mirror websites, disingenuous GoFundMe pages, and even postal mail scams can overwhelm an older adult trying to figure out what is real.
While these scams may seem obvious to many people, fraud perpetrators know how to target vulnerable people who are less likely to pick up on the signs of a scam, often becoming victimized. We often warn our elders of financial fraud via unknown callers and the internet reminding them never to give out personal information, and that is important. Sadly, however, most financial exploitations happen through caregivers, family members, friends, or trusted individuals. To best protect an older loved one, it is vital to keep a watchful eye on the signs of financial exploitation, in whatever form.
How to Identify Elderly Most at Risk
The first step is to identify who is most at risk. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) defines elder financial exploitation as “the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources by another” and is a form of elder abuse. Those older individuals who are lonely or isolated tend to be more at risk of financial exploitation. Increased risks are also associated with those who have mental or physical disabilities. And for those families with members who have financial or substance abuse issues, there is an increased risk of financial exploitation of their elders. Couple any of the above situations with an older individual who lacks control or familiarity with their finances, and the consequences may be disastrous.
There are warning signs of financial exploitation to be mindful of, including:
- Money management changes – This can be a change in the individuals tasked with financial oversight (professional or personal), new routine bank account withdrawals, or significant changes in account balances. Look for unexpected opening or closing accounts, changes in spending habits, disconnected utilities, or missed bill payments.
- Changes in individual associations – Any new “friend” that may try to isolate your loved one is a likely sign of undue influence, control, or manipulation. Any recent individual (professional or personal) who tries to withhold income or assets is very suspect. Additionally, be wary of those who pressure a loved one to give gifts such as cash, or property, or make personal loans without documentation or belief that the person will repay the loan under the terms and conditions.
- Changes in legal documents – Newly drafted legal documents that seem unusual or have forged signatures are apparent signs of problems. Also, look for alterations in existing documents, pre-signed withdrawal slips or checks, and transfers made without the knowledge or understanding of the older person.
- Changes in the older individual’s behavior – If your loved one exhibits fear, shame, humiliation, confusion about their finances, or an unwillingness to discuss money or get counsel, these are indications they need help now. These feelings and introversion may be due to deteriorating or untreated health or medical conditions, making them vulnerable to exploitation. It may also be a sign of ongoing financial exploitation. Any indicators of other abuse, such as physical or emotional neglect or abuse, even missing property, are warning signs that financial exploitation is occurring.
What can you do if you suspect or know that your elder loved one is experiencing financial exploitation or abuse?
Immediately report your suspicions or findings to law enforcement, adult protective services, your attorney, other responsible fiduciaries who are involved, and local elder agencies. It is helpful beyond measure to report to as many agencies and responsible, involved parties as possible. Quick action and reporting increase the chance to recover assets. Also, protect your elder loved one from the abuser. Create space between the parties. Do not permit contact to ensure the victim’s safety.
Many older individuals shy from reporting financial exploitation due to fear of retaliation, losing independence, or the embarrassment suffered for being duped. Other victims may be mentally or physically unable to recognize the abuse or take too long to recognize what was happening to stop it. And sometimes, seemingly radical changes in financial accounts are for legitimate reasons such as estate planning or preparing to enter a nursing home, so be sure of your suspicions.
If you find actual financial exploitation or abuse, contacting proper authorities is the key to the best outcomes. Professional service people follow processes to protect the victim’s person and then seek to recover missing assets. Elder financial abuse can create heartbreaking situations, leaving the victims destitute. Learn about elder financial abuse to protect your loved ones from the scams at large and the family or other close individuals who might seek to take advantage of them.