Each year, many seniors fall victim to credit card schemes, forged checks and bad investment scams. Not only are many of them coping with health problems and spiraling medical costs, but they are particularly vulnerable targets for financial scammers.
In addition to federal efforts to protect older Americans, many states have put programs in place to try to prevent elderly residents from being scammed.
The latest state to mobilize for its oldest residents is Texas, which in September passed the Elder Financial Protection Act. It gives new protections such as empowering financial advisers to take steps to protect their older clients when they see suspicious activity.
Elder financial abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in the United States, as many people feel too embarrassed to report that they have been swindled out of their property or, even worse, life savings.
But, there are some tell-tale signs to look for if you think an elderly person you know is being taken advantage of.
How to spot financial exploitation of the elderly
1. Unusual purchases or suspicious activity
If you notice that your usually thrifty grandfather has sprung for a fancy gold watch all of a sudden, alarm bells should go off. Does he have a new “friend” that he’s told you about? Has someone commandeered his bank account?
2. Financial activity that couldn’t have been done by the person
It’s a good idea to regularly look at your elderly loved ones’ account activity. This way you’ll be in a good position to spot anything amiss.
The Federal Trade Commission says this is one example of what to be on the lookout for: “You discover repeated ATM withdrawals from your bedridden mother’s bank account.”
3. A senior’s bills aren’t being paid when you know they have the means
The website Caregiverstress.com describes it this way: “In cases where a family member or friend manages a senior’s finances, be alert to a sudden decline in the client’s lifestyle. This could indicate the caregiver is appropriating the senior’s funds for him- or herself. Watch for things like the arrival of eviction notices for a home where the client has lived for years, utilities being cut off for non-payment, discontinuing trips to the dentist, hairdresser or barber because they are “not necessary,” and other things of this nature.”
4. A senior can’t remember major purchases
The AARP says: “This isn’t the garden-variety type of lapse — like ‘I don’t know where I put my keys’ — that nearly all of us experience from time to time. It’s more like when a retiree whose signature is on a bank withdrawal slip for a large amount later says, ‘That doesn’t ring a bell,’ or ‘I don’t recall taking that money out of the bank.'”
Money expert Clark Howard says that he’s heard of some outrageous stories involving elders being exploited.
“I’ve heard of one con man who began befriending an older woman when she simply asked him for directions,” he wrote. “By the time he was done, she had given him Power of Attorney over her funds, and he steadily looted her over time for $180,000!”
Clark recommends some key ways to help prevent elder abuse of your loved ones”
- Stay involved in their lives. This way, you’ll be able to more easily spot problems.
- Be nosy. Find out what they’re involved in and stay vigilant.
- “Visit them. To someone who is a shut in, just your presence brings them joy. It may seem dull at times, but never forget, someday you will be in those shoes,” he says.