Though I typically discuss issues related to divorce, elder financial abuse affects families of all types and should be guarded against.
Elder financial abuse is on the rise. Many seniors, regardless of their income bracket, are at risk as people over age 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth. The definition of financial exploitation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but is broadly defined as the illegal or improper use of the property, assets or funds of people 60 and older. This can include:
- Identity theft;
- Credit card fraud;
- Abuse of power of attorney;
- Annuity scam; and
- Using undue influence to cheat seniors out of property or assets.
Many times, the abuse goes unreported, as victims may be embarrassed that they fell for a scam. Several years ago, I had a client in her 80s for whom I had prepared taxes for each year for almost 20 years. Though still very astute and sound, she fell for a scam. She didn’t tell anyone until one day, after the fact, when she admitted to writing a check for $10,000 to a group she had heard about on the news, which resulted in the FBI contacting her to let her know that she had been scammed.
There are different reasons why an elderly person may become a target:
- Lack of familiarity with consumer rights;
- Unawareness of scams;
- Loneliness or isolation; and
- Medical conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Keep your eyes open for these signs that your loved one is being exploited:
- Transferring assets to a new friend;
- Changes in spending habits;
- Excessive reimbursements to caregivers or family members;
- New authorized signers on bank accounts;
- Missing property;
- Large withdrawals from bank accounts; or
- Unpaid bills or disappearing bank statements.
If you have an elderly loved one, make sure to accompany them to meetings with professional advisers and encourage them to participate in social outings. For more information, help is available through these organizations:
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
National Adult Protective Services Association
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans