Elder financial abuse has become a fast-growing epidemic in American society. To make matters worse, it is also becoming more sophisticated than ever. Consider these startling statistics:
- 1 in 20 senior citizens report being the victims of financial abuse
- It’s believed that only 1 in 44 cases of elder financial abuse is reported
- Ten percent of financial abuse victims must turn to government assistance to cope with their losses
Who is responsible for elder financial abuse?
Financial exploitation of seniors can be perpetrated by strangers, but it’s fairly common for the abusers to be people the senior knows and trusts (making it easy for them to get close to the victim). Examples of the latter include family members, friends, neighbors, caretakers, lawyers, religious leaders, and medical professionals.
Common financial scams involving seniors may include the following:
- Claims that the victim has already won a lottery or sweepstakes
- Offers to do home, driveway, or yard work cheaply
- Claims that a relative of the senior’s needing money immediately to post bail
- Perpetrators saying they’re from a charity or relief organization, especially after natural disasters
- Perpetrators saying they’re from a utility company, and demand immediate payment or threaten to shut off vital services
More sophisticated scams that target the elderly include:
- Predatory lending practices (i.e., coercing seniors to take out loans or mortgages with high interest rates)
- Investment scams, such as pyramid schemes or the promise of unrealistic returns
- Identity theft, such as opening bank accounts, credit cards, or applying for loans in the senior’s name
- Medicare scams, such as claiming the senior received medical services which never happened, then billing Medicare for them
- Internet phishing, which requests personal information such as Medicare, Social Security, or bank account numbers under false pretenses
The effects of financial abuse on seniors
The effects of financial abuse on seniors are as profound as they are devastating. They can include losing trust in others, anger, fear for the future, depression, anxiety, and even shame or guilt that they somehow caused the abuse. They may face destitution, the loss of their home or assets, and the inability to provide for their needs or hire an attorney to seek legal redress.
What can you do if you think a love done is being financially exploited?
The first step towards combating elder financial abuse is to be aware of it. If you recognize your loved one’s situation as any of those described above, contact APS (Adult Protective Services) immediately. They may open an investigation and take appropriate steps to eliminate or minimize the abuse as much as possible.
Financial abuse is just like any other form – it is illegal. In certain cases, APS may refer the case to law enforcement for further investigation, and possibly even prosecution.
Another step you can take in an effort to improve the situation is to reduce the victim’s isolation whenever possible. Abusers are much less likely to victimize someone they know has others watching over them. In addition, the more supervision your elderly loved one has, the fewer opportunities there will be for abuse to take place. You may want to hire a trusted home health aide for those times when you can’t be there.
If you are able to, you may even want to stem the tide of abuse by closing joint bank accounts the victim has open, assisting them in revoking the power attorney held by an abuser, and choosing a responsible party to manage the victim’s finances.
Learn more about elder financial abuse
There is much more to elder financial abuse than can be covered in the scope of this article. To learn more, the Institute on Aging (IOA) will be hosting a Financial Elder Abuse Conference on January 23rd. Register now to secure your attendance, and learn all that you need to know to protect your loved one’s financial integrity and peace of mind.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.