WHAT IS ELDER FINANCIAL ABUSE?
Elder financial abuse is much more than just trying to scam seniors or gain control of their money.
The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA) defines elder financial abuse as a broad spectrum of conduct including:
- Taking a vulnerable elder’s money or property
- Fraudulently signing for elderly people or forging their signatures
- Deceptively coercing or using undue influence to get an older person to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney
- Taking or using an older person’s property or possessions without permission
- Promising long-term (even lifelong) care in return for money or property and then not fulfilling the promise
- Using deception to gain a victim’s confidence (also known as confidence crimes or “cons”)
a growing concern
Understanding elder abuse
Distressing — that’s how to describe the fact that older Americans are losing at least $2.9 billion every year to people who take advantage of their vulnerabilities. And that’s only for the cases that are actually reported.* It’s called elder financial abuse, and it’s occurring more frequently every year.
Who’s victimizing older Americans? It could be anyone. A 2011 study* shows that:
Strangers: 51 %Family, friends, and neighbors: 34 %Business sector: 12 %Medicare and Medicaid fraud: 3 %
The same 2011 study also shows that nearly 60% of the perpetrators are men between the ages of 30 and 59, while most of the female perpetrators are between the ages of 30 and 49.
And as our baby boomers lead longer lives, the number of older Americans will only increase. As will elder financial abuse. It’s in all of our best interest to learn more so we can stop this kind of abuse in its tracks. If you suspect a friend or loved one is being abused (financially or otherwise), report it to your local adult protective services agency or law enforcement.
*Source: The 2011 “MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse.
WHO TAKES ADVANTAGE OF SENIORS?
Many perpetrators seek out seniors with the intent to exploit or scam them. These people may:
- Say they love the older person (also known as “romance scams”)
- Gain access to seniors as care givers, counselors, or other professional service providers
- Find vulnerable widows or widowers by reading obituaries, driving through neighborhoods to identify seniors who live alone or are isolated
- Attend church or other community functions to find seniors who may live alone
- Quickly move from community to community to avoid being noticed or apprehended
- Steal physical possessions from the seniors’ homes
Service providers or businesses that are unscrupulous also may take advantage or scam seniors. These people may:
- Overcharge for services or products
- Use deceptive or unfair business practices
- Use positions of trust or respect to gain compliance
Unfortunately, close friends or family members are often common perpetrators. These people may:
- Believe they are entitled to, or justified in taking, what they believe is rightfully theirs
- Think the senior will spend all of his or her savings, depriving him or her of an inheritance
- Have had a negative or abusive relationship with the senior
- Try to prevent other family members or siblings from inheriting the senior’s assets
- Attempt to isolate the senior from other friends and family members
- Need money to finance a substance abuse, gambling, or other problem
WHY ARE THERE ELDERLY TARGETS?
There are many reasons why the elderly become targets and fall prey to scammers or thieves. The most common reason is that seniors are most likely to depend on others, due to disabilities or declining health. Their caregivers have ready access to their homes, financial accounts, personal information, medical supplies and medications, and they are typically trusted companions who can easily influence a senior.
In terms of financial matters, seniors may not realize the value of what they own — including their homes, which may be worth more than they think. This could make them a likely target for scammers or predators who could offer to buy their homes or possessions for a fraction of what these items are really worth.
Many elderly people are not comfortable with evolving technology used to manage their finances. Perpetrators could easily volunteer to help older people set up online access to their bank accounts in an attempt to gain control over their usernames and passwords.
In an attempt to simplify their lives, some seniors have predictable patterns, such as receiving monthly checks or going to the bank on the same day every week. If perpetrators notice this routine or pattern, they can easily break into the home while the elderly person is away or even attempt to physically take the older person’s possessions through strong-arm tactics such as robbery or mugging. Additionally, perpetrators often know that seniors who are sick or impaired are less likely to take action because of their illness, embarrassment, or fear. Abusers may assume that a senior may not live long enough to deal with legal interventions or even make convincing witnesses.
Know the signs of elder financial abuse
To help protect older family members and friends from financial abuse, it’s important to know what to look for:
- Sudden reluctance to discuss financial matters
- Sudden, atypical or unexplained withdrawals, wire transfers, or other changes in their financial situations
- Utility or other bills not being paid
- New best friends and “sweethearts”
- Onset or worsening of illnesses or disability
- Behavioral changes, such as fear or submissiveness, social isolation, withdrawn behavior, disheveled appearance, forgetfulness, impulsiveness, secrecy or paranoia (These may also be signs of health issues or dementia.)
- Sudden desire to change their wills, especially when they might not fully understand the implications
- Sudden increase in spending by family or friends
- Transfer of titles of homes or other assets to other people for no apparent reason
- Large, frequent “gifts” given to caregivers
- Missing personal property
- Large, unexplained and unexpected loans taken out by elders, such as student loans