Most people are reluctant to hand over their hard-earned cash, but things change when elderly relatives become dependent on others. A 2011 study organized by the insurance company MetLife found that seniors lose $2.9 billion annually due to financial abuse. Other organizations suspect that the losses are much higher because victims are reluctant to make reports.
Examples of Financial Exploitation
Financial abuse can happen quickly. A sudden illness may give perpetrators an opportunity to take advantage of their elders. In 60 percent of cases, family members perpetrate abuse. During difficult times, seniors may feel grateful and relieved that a friend or family member has generously offered help. Unfortunately, the motive might be much darker.
Unscrupulous abusers quickly swindle seniors out of their life’s savings. In some cases, family members believe that they’re just using their inheritance a little bit early. Abusers will go as far as forging signatures and transferring assets to their own accounts. Some people use the funds to pay for a trip to the casino, buy drugs or go on shopping sprees. Once the money is gone, the abusers abandon their relatives. Here are a few warning signs.
- Furniture, jewelry and valuable possessions are missing.
- Cash, credit cards and financial statements have disappeared.
- Unexplained or unauthorized charges have been made.
- Assets have been transferred to a relative or new friend.
- Checks have been written to cash.
- Important bills aren’t paid.
- Utilities have terminated their services.
- Bank accounts have been closed or are overdrawn.
- Relatives were pressured to give out money.
- Unauthorized changes have been made to legal documents.
Scams That Target Senior Citizens
Seniors are targeted by telemarketing scams more often than other groups. Callers may use scare tactics or make unauthorized charges to the victim’s credit cards.
- Lottery and sweepstake scams trick seniors into wiring several thousand dollars to pay for the taxes on their supposed winnings.
- Con artists trick seniors into paying for home repairs, driveway sealing or yard work that’s never completed or is done poorly.
- In the grandparent scam, seniors are told that their grandson is in jail and needs money for bail.
- Seniors may fall victim to so-called Internet phishing scams because they aren’t experienced with the technology.
- In one common scam, fraudsters pose as utility workers. One scammer tells the resident to come outside while the accomplice steals valuables in the house.
How You Can Help
If you suspect financial exploitation, use your sense of right and wrong to protect your loved ones. Follow these steps.
- Recognize the warning signs.
- Record evidence.
- Make a report.
Call your relative’s bank or credit union. Employees can review the account and contact appropriate agencies. If someone is cashing your loved one’s Social Security checks, tell the Social Security Administration. It is a serious crime.
Remember that a power of attorney is an important document that needs to be used wisely. Seniors can have the document waiting, but it shouldn’t be used until necessary. Also, the authority can be revoked at any time.
A qualified attorney can recover missing savings and transfer the decision-making authority to the correct people. Acting quickly can protect important assets and ensure the well-being of your loved ones.