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Recognizing Elder Financial Abuse

April 26, 2021

Posted in Aging

Adults over the age of 65 hold about a third of the nation’s wealth, and this proportion will increase as our society continues to grow older. Many older adults reap the benefits of wealth intentionally accumulated from a lifetime of hard work, but unfortunately some will fall victim to scam and fraud through elder financial abuse. Today’s post shares information about this important topic, how to recognize the signs it’s happening and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you or your loved ones.

Elder financial abuse may be perpetrated by anyone—a professional con artist, a paid caregiver, a stranger or casual acquaintance, or even a son, daughter, or other family member. Sadly, though, research consistently shows that up to 2/3 of the time, it’s caused by family members or other trusted individuals.

Common examples are 1) Taking, misusing or using, without knowledge or permission, money or property, 2) Forging or forcing a signature, 3) Getting an elder person to sign a deed, will, contract, or power of attorney through deception, coercion or undue influence, 4) Providing misleading information that influences the elder person’s use or assignment of assets (ie – to change beneficiaries), and 5) Improperly using authority provided by a trust or power of attorney.

What can you do?

 Whether it’s for yourself or someone you love, there are a number of steps that can be taken to help provide protection against financial abuse, especially as it relates to the vulnerabilities created by the aging process.

Understand Cognitive Decline and Undue Influence: Scientific research shows that financial decision-making is often one of the first cognitive functions to decline, and even high-functioning adults can develop a vulnerability to financial exploitation as part of the normal aging process.

Make a Plan: Reduce risks later in life by creating a plan early to identify powers of attorney, trusted contact authorization forms and advance directives. These will allow someone you trust to make financial decisions on your behalf should you be unable to manage your assets independently. Read more information on our previous blog post, Who Will Take Care of Your Affairs If You Can’t?

Be Wary of Unsolicited Offers: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Run the idea by someone you trust before offering personal information or sending money to someone you don’t know or even someone you’re familiar with if the request makes you feel uncomfortable. Let the person you’re talking to know that you have a policy of doing this and you won’t be able to give an answer or send information until a later time. This also gives you time to think about it and research the validity of the request.

Protect Your Identity by following the below steps:

  • Shred any documents that contain personal information, such as bank or credit card statements, when you no longer need them.
  • Do not carry your social security card with you.
  • Do not give personal information over the phone.
  • Get a free copy of your credit report from one of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion (available by the Federal Trade Commission on ftc.gov), and review for inaccurate information or unrecognized entries.

Reach Out For Help: If you feel like someone might be taking advantage of you, a friend/family member or someone else, courageously reach out to someone you trust to tell them of your concerns. If you aren’t sure who you can trust, consider talking to someone on your professional team – your doctor, attorney, financial planner, or a public agency committed to helping vulnerable members of our population.

Here are a couple of organizations who want to help: 

  • National Center on Elder Abuse – https://ncea.acl.gov or 1-855-500-3537
    • Helplines, Hotlines and Information
  • S. Administration on Aging – eldercare.acl.gov or 1-800-677-1116
    • Helps find local caregiving services and resources

At Johnson Bixby, part of our job is to look out for our clients’ well-being, including watching for red flags related to financial abuse. If you want help thinking through steps to reduce your risk of abuse or fraud as you age, we encourage you to talk with your financial planner. Your protection is important to us.

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