Take precautions now to defend yourself later
Organize your financial affairs
No matter how old you are, it’s a good idea to update and organize all your financial documentation, including your will, financial powers of attorney, real estate deeds, insurance policies, pension and trust documents, birth and marriage certificates, and Social Security paperwork. Maintaining an organized file and helping others (such as a parent, uncle, or close friend) do the same can make it easier to spot the inconsistencies and red flags that could signal financial abuse.
Make a list of financial contacts.
Bankers, insurance agents, attorneys, accountants, stockbrokers, and other professionals should be on it. Share your list with your Financial Advisor and with family members you trust.
Keep a watchful eye
An older person could be at risk for exploitation if he or she feels socially isolated, has suffered a recent loss, or has physical or mental disabilities. Be especially vigilant if the individual is unfamiliar with his or her finances or has family members who are struggling financially or have substance abuse problems. Look out for financial mishandling, which can include anything from the use of property or belongings without permission to persuading someone to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney through deception or coercion. If you notice any sudden changes in your family member’s health, social life, or spending habits, ask about the reasons for the shift.
REPORT THE ABUSE
You should report elder financial abuse
Currently, there is no national reporting mechanism to track the financial exploitation of elders. However, each state has its own reporting requirements and many professional organizations work with the elderly as “mandated reporters” by state statute.
By law, mandated reporters are people who have accepted full or partial care or custody of an elder, regardless of compensation. This can include licensed staff at any public or private facility that provides care or services for the elderly, such as:
- Health practitioners (doctors, nurses, etc.)
- Law enforcement agents
- County welfare department staff
- Any person providing health or social services to elders
- Employees at financial institutions
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.
If you believe that an elder is in a life threatening situation, contact 911 or the local law enforcement department.
UNDER-REPORTING OF ABUSE
Elder abuse is often under-reported.
Unfortunately, elder abuse is often not reported — creating a problem that can devastate families.
Why does this happen? A victim’s reluctance to report can occur for many reasons including:
- Shame and embarrassment (especially if the perpetrator is a family member)
- Fear that the perpetrator will get in trouble
- Worry and fear that he/she will be forced to live in assisted living or a nursing home
- Guilt and blame
- Denial that what he or she is experiencing is actually abuse
- Fear that the abuse will worsen after reporting or that others will not believe him/her
- Difficulties in speaking or communicating with others
YOUR BEST DEFENSE: MONITOR FINANCIAL ACTIVITY
Monitor activity on a regular basis
Awareness is the key. Your best defense against fraud is to monitor financial activity carefully…and on a regular basis. Use common sense and be wary. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Make an effort to protect yourself or a loved one by following each of these tips.
Check your statements
Review your account statements as soon as you receive them. By using online financial services, you can review your transactions more quickly and frequently than waiting for paper statements to be mailed. Notify your financial institution immediately if you notice errors or unauthorized activity. If your account statement is late in arriving, call your financial institution to find out why.
Always keep your credit card and debit card purchase receipts (including online purchases) and check your credit card and bank statements to make sure the purchase amounts are correct. You can review your transactions more quickly and frequently by going online. Immediately dispute any charges that you did not make by notifying your credit card provider. In addition, consider having duplicate statements sent to a trusted advisor or individual even if you have a power of attorney. This allows an objective third party to review the activity in your account.
Put disputes in writing
Immediately upon becoming aware of a disputed item, call your financial institution. Always put disputes regarding your credit card statements in writing; otherwise, you may be held legally responsible for the entire amount of the disputed item. Financial institutions have specific instructions for notifying them of an unauthorized transaction. Ask your credit card issuer about their dispute notification requirements.
Consider online banking
Consider signing up for online banking. This will allow you to monitor your account activity at any time. Never tell anyone your online banking password and change it periodically. Don’t use your name, your children’s names, Social Security number, birthdates, anniversary dates, phone numbers, pets’ names, or any other easily guessed information as your online banking username or password.
Check your credit report
Check your credit report for accuracy at least once a year. If a report lists unfamiliar accounts with large credit lines, you may be a victim of identity theft. Also review the “Inquiries” section of your reports. Credit reports also tell you who has reviewed your credit history. If a car dealer in another part of the country has pulled your credit report, for example, you may be the victim of identity theft.
When you obtain your credit report, be sure to keep it in a secure place. It contains a lot of your sensitive financial information.
ELDER ABUSE RESOURCES
Other resources for seniors
National Center on Elder Abuse
State directory of helplines, hotlines, and elder abuse prevention resources
Eldercare locator — find help in your community
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA)
Visit these websites for further information and assistance to protect yourself or a loved one financially.
Federal Trade Commission – Agency dedicated to preventing consumer fraud ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)
Fakechecks.org – Website sponsored by the American Bankers Association and the U.S. Postal Service
ScamBusters.org – Website dedicated to protecting consumers from scams
United States Department of Justice – Government site with a focus on the Internet and telemarketing
FDIC – Tips from the governmental agency that regulates U.S. banking
National Consumers League Fraud Center – Information and tips for avoiding fraud
Anti-Phishing Working Group – A global law enforcement association focused on eliminating fraud and identity theft
Comptroller of the Currency – Consumer Protection News
Federal agency dedicated to a safe banking system