How To Spot Financial Abuse of an Elderly Relative or Friend

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Each year, many senior citizens fall victim to financial abuse, which can take the form of credit card schemes, fake gift card payment requests, forged checks, bad investment scams and much more.

Leaning on the expert advice of money expert Clark Howard — whose Consumer Action Center (CAC) takes scam-related calls from people of all ages all the time — and other professional resources, this article is going to show you how to spot financial elder abuse and how to prevent and report it.

What Is Elder Abuse & How To Prevent It?

The Administration for Community Living, a government agency that supports the needs of the aging, says that elder abuse refers to “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”

The sad truth is that seniors are vulnerable on many fronts. Elder abuse is often committed by strangers but also by friends or even family members.

To make matters worse, elder abuse is vastly underreported.

Clark 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 says. “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 specific 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.

If they don’t live near you, you still need to keep tabs on what’s happening in the lives of your older loved ones, says CAC Director Lori Silverman.

“It is important to stay in contact with elderly relatives and ask questions if you suspect they are being scammed,” Lori adds.

There are some telltale signs that may indicate that an elderly person you know is being taken advantage of.

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4 Ways To Spot Elder Abuse

Here are four things to be on the lookout for:

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. Ask yourself: 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

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.”

It’s a good idea to look at your elderly loved ones’ account activity regularly. This way you’ll be in a good position to spot anything that’s amiss.

3. Their 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. They Can’t Remember Major Financial Transactions

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.'”

Final Thoughts

In this day and age, the elderly are potentially vulnerable to a barrage of scams and schemes as criminals devise new ways to exploit them.

If you think your aging relative or someone else you know is being abused, you can contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311) or reach out to an equivalent state agency where you live.

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