The elderly are particularly vulnerable to scams or to financial abuse by family members. A recent study found that up to one million older Americans may be targeted yearly. Family members and caregivers are the culprits in 55 percent of cases, although total financial losses are higher with investment fraud scams.
While it is impossible to guarantee that an elderly loved one is not the victim of financial abuse, there are some steps you can take to reduce the chances.
1. Have more than one family member involved in caring for the loved one and reviewing financial decisions to provide a check and balance system. Family members often begin abuse by “borrowing” money from available sources when a financial crisis occurs in his/her life. Although he/she may begin the abuse with the full intention of repayment, the abuser often fails to follow though.
2. You can also encourage the elder to get involved in community activities to ensure he or she has a wide range of support. Elderly people with little support are easy prey to ill intentioned individuals who can insert themselves into the lives of a lonely senior with little oversight.
3. Talk to the senior while he or she is competent and able to discuss proactive solutions such as establishing a trust or giving power of attorney to appropriate family members or trusted, long-term friends. Create a system of tracking incoming funds by using direct deposit or online banking. Establish a contact person to help the senior vet caregivers carefully, verify references and touch base after hiring.
Despite these safeguards, financial abuse can still occur and be very difficult to detect. Signs that a loved one may be the victim of this kind of abuse often include:
▸ Disappearance of household objects
▸ Withdrawals of large amounts of money or low bank balances
▸ Continual withdraws of cash for no stated purpose
▸ A new “best friend” who is often significantly younger
▸ A change or increase in credit card transactions
▸ Signatures on checks look different
▸ Changes in bank accounts or newly formed joint accounts
▸ Indications of fear or concern that a cargiver will no longer like them
If you suspect someone of being financially abused, start by calling your local Adult Protective Services. They may suggest that you contact the police and file a police report. You may also need to contact an attorney to establish a guardian or conservatorship to end the abuse.