It can start innocently enough. Your mother mentions that a new “friend” is helping her with her banking. Managing her money has been a source of confusion since your father died, and she’s grateful for all the “good advice.” Or your father says he’s learned some great investment tips from someone “in the know” about Wall Street.
When you’re busy with your own life and responsibilities, such comments may seem unremarkable. Until you discover that your mother’s so-called friend has been transferring her funds and ordering checks for her, and has walked away with her life’s savings. Or that your father has given all his money to a scam artist.
Older Americans are all too frequently victims of financial fraud. According to Forbes, one in five people over 65 in the U.S. is a victim of financial exploitation, costing at least $2.9 billion annually. And that may be an understatement, since elders are often too ashamed to report that they’ve fallen for scams.
Especially when aging loved ones are struggling with early Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, they become that much more vulnerable to financial exploitation by cunning predators. Here are some of the warning signs that your loved one may be at risk:
Beware of Strangers Bearing “Gifts”
When a stranger becomes a close friend too quickly, it’s time to step in and find out what’s going on. Watch out for the following:
- Is this person too eager to please your loved one?
- Does she have nothing in common with your loved one? What is the real basis of the friendship?
- Do you suspect he may be looking to seduce your loved one or marry for riches?
- Is she offering to help with financial transactions, such as cashing checks, making deposits, balancing a checkbook, paying bills or transferring funds?
- Does he have access to your loved one’s safe deposit box?
- Is she trying to convince your loved one to have both of their names on a checking or savings account, to make banking “easier”?
- Is he offering too much free investment advice?
If a Deal Seems Too Good To Be True, It’s a Scam
Elders are especially vulnerable to telephone scam artists who call and pressure them for personal identifying information. This can take the form of a phone caller claiming your loved one has won a lottery or sweepstakes but must pay some kind of tax or fee to claim it. Or the scammer may assert that he’s a debt collector and threaten your loved one with arrest if she doesn’t supply personal financial information for delinquent payments.
These are just a few examples. Talk to your loved one and explain that she should never give out any personal identifying information to a stranger over the phone, no matter how good the offer seems—or how threatening the caller sounds.
Help your loved one understand that these facts are off limits when speaking to an unsolicited caller:
- Name, address, birthdate
- Social Security Number
- Bank account or credit card numbers
- Estate plan information
- Location of safe deposit box
- Any details of personal investments, Social Security or pension checks, stock certificates
Family Members Can Be the Most Dangerous Predators
Strangers aren’t the only ones who prey on elders. Family members all too often take advantage of vulnerable, aging parents. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), 90 percent of those who abuse elders are either family or trusted friends. Financial exploitation by close relatives or caregivers can take many forms:
- Taking advantage of joint bank accounts or Power of Attorney to steal money for personal use;
- Using ATM cards or stealing checks to make unauthorized cash withdrawals;
- Threatening abandonment or physical abuse if the elder doesn’t comply with demands;
- Refusing to get necessary medical care for the elder in order to preserve assets for the abuser’s use;
- Keeping change from errands, insisting that the elder sign falsified time sheets, paying personal bills with the elder’s checkbook, talking on the phone or napping on the job instead of performing caregiving duties.
If You Suspect Financial Fraud, File a Complaint
Disentangling your loved one from a financial scam can get complicated and very expensive. The best way to avoid a mess is to help your aging elder stay involved with real friends, supportive family and community. When your loved one is receiving care from someone else, be sure valuables are secured.
Stay involved with frequent conversations and visits. If you live far away, find a trusted individual in the community or an Aging Life Care Professional™, someone you have vetted, to keep in touch with your loved one.
The only way to stop financial exploitation is to report it. There are several ways to do this:
- The U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative lists resources by state where you can get help.
- In Massachusetts, you can file a complaint with The Attorney General’s Office Elder Hotline, (888) AG-ELDER (888-243-5337).
- Call the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs Elder Abuse Hotline: 800-922-2275.
- NAPSA lists a variety of other resources for reporting suspected financial exploitation.
President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care™ manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.
For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.
Image Credit: Kristof Degreef