Elder financial fraud and elder abuse and two important topics that are important to discuss and be aware of as we age. We like to think that these issues won’t hit us or our loved ones, but elder abuse is much more common than many people realize. According to the World Health Organization, around 1 in 6 people 60 years and older have experienced some form of abuse in the community during the past year. Rates of elder abuse also increased during the pandemic. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) also found that instances of American elder financial fraud and abuse range from 2.6 to 36.5 billion dollars in lost money and assets annually. Although financial exploitation is often reported more than all other types of elder abuse, the NCOA believes instances of elder financial fraud and abuse are still likely to be under-reported across the country.
Even as most people begin to socialize again after two years of pandemic isolation, many older adults are still at-risk and remain socially isolated and vulnerable to abuse and financial fraud. Robocalls, text messages, email scams, and catfishing on social media platforms are all used every day to target and attack older and more vulnerable adults. Con artists bombard the elderly routinely to seek financial gain. However, the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) reports that most financial exploitation for older adults comes from individuals they know, not online or phone phishing scams. This includes people who are supposed to be close to the victim, such as relatives, caregivers, friends, and neighbors. In fact, the NCOA reports that, In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member and up to two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.
If you have an elderly loved one, or work closely with senior citizens, there are signs and circumstances that can help identify and prevent financial abuse. Senior financial abusers will often misappropriate cash, jewelry, and other assets, even suggesting to the elderly adult that they’ve forgotten where they left important items or convincing them to change their estate planning documents. Some abusers will go as far as forging financial documents or stealing a Social Security benefits check.
Signs of Financial Abuse
Unusual Financial Activity
To keep your elderly loved one safe, look for instances of unusual financial activity that may happen as they get older. This may include large withdrawals of cash, questionable credit card charges, and unpaid bills suddenly popping up. Review bank statements and identify any recurring transactions and bank transfers your loved one does not remember approving. If they can’t recall any request, authorization, or adequately explain the circumstances of that transaction, take the time to investigate the situation fully. A periodic review of an aging loved one’s credit or debit card, and bank statements is a good idea. This will help you guard against future elderly fraud and cut it off quickly if you notice something strange happening with their money.
A big factor in elderly abuse is the unlikely help of a neighbor, caregiver, or friend that you’ve never seen before. Always be on the lookout for new helpers and indispensable “friends” who may be there to take advantage of your loved one. The elderly are often lonely and particularly susceptible to abusers who attempt to ingratiate themselves into their lives under the guise of companionship. These abusers like to work when no one else is around, making it easier to hide their exploitive behavior. Large transient cities, such as Las Vegas, NV, can also make it easier for these individuals to find and exploit elderly adults.
The first sign of financial abuse is often isolation. This newfound friend may cut off regular family communications with crazy explanations, saying they are unavailable, feeling unwell, or napping every time the family calls. They will promise a return phone call, but that never happens. These exploiters will initially be very helpful, making themselves indispensable to the victim, and then begin to steal from them in various ways. But every family can put precautions in place to avoid elder abuse and help protect their loved ones.
Estate Planning and Elder Care Attorneys
The most direct way to protect against elder abuse and financial exploitation is to meet with a qualified estate planning attorney to review and update important estate planning documents, including having a trusted individual named as the durable financial power of attorney. With this document in place, this trusted individual can oversee their loved one’s finances with full access to facilitate, transact, and protect assets. Naming a financial power of attorney gives many seniors a sense of relief. However, any cash in the hands of an aging loved one should also be monitored and their home closely guarded to prevent theft from an eyeing stranger.
Other important estate planning documents to review and update include your elderly loved one’s living will, medical power of attorney, and trust. Keeping all of these documents updated can help prevent future elder abuse and provide proof of your loved one’s wishes in a court of law if needed.
Simplify Banking Transactions
Physical disabilities and other issues can prevent an older person from driving or otherwise getting around. This can create new opportunities for financial vulnerabilities. For example, frailty and mobility issues can make in-person banking impossible. The older individual may not be computer savvy, or understand how to do remote banking, or they may have a visual impairment that makes looking at a computer or small smartphone screen challenging.
Automatic bill pay and other automated options can help combat some of these problems. Payment can be made on time without the hassle of receiving paper bills, writing checks, and sending them off, relieving enormous strain on the older person. However, they may need assistance in setting up these options for themselves.
Watch Out for Cognitive Decline
Dementia becomes more common as people age. Different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, can create many problems with daily living, and cognitive decline often leads to a loss of financial understanding. Many elderly adults also live with undiagnosed mental issues, which increase the chance of exploitation. It can be surprising to see how many unscrupulous friends, neighbors, and even family members will try to take advantage of cognitively impaired loved ones. It’s important to be vigilant as your loved one’s cognitive abilities decline.
Sensitive private information like Social Security numbers, account numbers, and passwords must be closely guarded by one person, preferably the trusted individual named as the durable financial power of attorney, to help with money management. Limiting access to this crucial information to only one or two trusted individuals is a best practice to protect an elder adult from financial fraud.
Vet Delivery Services
The pandemic may have families relying on delivery services that didn’t use to happen. House cleaning, meal delivery and preparation, errands, and even picking up prescription medications are all available services for online delivery. Some of them may ask for cash payments. However, cash for services rendered to the elderly gives nefarious individuals the opportunity to exploit them financially. Be wary of cash delivery services and be aware of what deliveries are regularly taking place with your elderly loved one.
If you or someone you know is suspicious of financial exploitation or elder abuse, immediately report the situation. In Clark County, you can call 702-486-6930 to report elder abuse; In Nevada, you can call 888-729-0571. If you or your loved one is living in a different start, call Adult Protective Services in their state to report abuse. You can also notify your local police department or phone the US Justice Department’s National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833–FRAUD–11 or 833–372–8311. When you see something, say something. If you want to put an estate plan in place to help protect you or your elderly loved one here in Nevada, call the estate planning and elder law attorneys are Michaelson Law for a consultation.