My Turn

Opinion: Elder financial abuse: The silent crime

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Elder financial abuse has the potential to impact all of us on some level. Whether you are protecting a loved one from becoming a victim or actively taking precautions to protect your personal estate, fraud and exploitation is a risk that grows as people age.

It is important for individuals to understand the magnitude of this crime, identify ways to both actively prevent and stop abuse, as well as understand how to escalate if it is suspected.

Understand

Seniors lose an estimated $36.5 billion every year to the crime of elder financial abuse. In fact, according to the 2010 Investor Protection Trust (IPT) Elder Fraud Survey, more than 7 million older Americans — one out of every five over the age of 65 — have fallen victim to a financial swindle. As Baby Boomers turn 65 at a rate of 10,000 a day, the threat of potential abuse heightens.

It is imperative we take preventative measures to confront this epidemic, including educating ourselves on the potential warning signs and using the resources and tools available to stop fraud and abuse from occurring.

Identify

Spotting exploitation can be difficult as the perpetrators of these crimes tend to be close friends or relatives. Studies project that approximately 70 percent of elder financial abuse is committed by family members, friends, trusted persons or others known to the individual being exploited. This increasingly blurred line of those who have one’s best interest at heart and those who don’t makes spotting these scams a challenge.

Here are a few warning signs:

• Sudden reluctance to discuss financial matters

• Sudden, atypical or unexplained withdrawals or wire transfers from their accounts, or other changes in their financial situations

• New best friends and “sweethearts”

• Behavioral changes, such as fear or submissiveness, social isolation, withdrawn behavior, disheveled appearance, and forgetfulness

• Changes in the will, especially when they might not fully understand the implications

• Large, frequent “gifts” to a caregiver

• Missing personal belongings

Report

Reporting is the most important step to escalating suspected elder financial abuse. Studies show that as few as one in 44 cases of elder financial abuse are reported. Victims tend to keep details secret for a number of reasons – fear of being victimized again, reluctance to incriminate a family member or friend, or admitting vulnerability are among them.

Use the below resource to properly report suspected elder financial abuse.

• Contact a state agency

National Center on Elder Abuse

Remember, elder financial exploitation is not exclusive. Consider the below to help protect yourself from potential abuse:

• Organize your estate. No matter how old you are, it’s a good idea to update and organize all your financial documentation, including your will, financial powers of attorney, real estate deeds, insurance policies, pension and trust documents, birth and marriage certificates, and Social Security paperwork. Maintaining an organized file, and helping others (such as a parent, uncle or close friend) do the same, can make it easier to spot the inconsistencies and red flags that could signal financial abuse.

• Make a list of financial contacts. Bankers, insurance agents, attorneys, accountants, stockbrokers, and other professionals should be on it. Share your list with your Financial Advisor and with family members you trust. In addition, ensure you have a trusted contact on file. This is an individual who the advisor could contact in the event of an emergency or suspected abuse.

Resources:

• True Link Financial. “True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse.” 2015

• Investor Protection Trust (IPT). “IPT Elder Fraud Survey.” 2010

• Jewish Council for the Aging, National Center for Elder Abuse. Paley Rothman article “Who Commits Elder Financial Abuse and Why Isn’t It Reported?” 2016.

• National Adult Protective Services Association. “Policy and Advocacy.” napsa-now.org. 2017.

Kistner is a market manager for Wells Fargo Advisors.

My Turn

Comments

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Jennifer Thibodeaux

This is a great article that points out some of the danger seniors could be subject to. The subject of elder abuse goes deeper and should be brought forward as this population seems to be the most forgotten. Another point to ponder is Long Term Care. I work for a home health care company as an aide which entails taking care of this population along with disabled folks by providing help with basic needs. It is an alternative to very expensive nursing home care or assisted living. The average pay for health care aides is $10.32 an hour (payscale.com), I make $9. Medicaid pays on average $19 per hour (seniorliving.org) and the companies, even "non-profits" I venture to say are running an exploitation service involving this vulnerable group of people. In my opinion, if workers such as myself were paid more there would be more of an incentive to actually care for these people. I have heard so many stories and see first hand what treatment they endure regardless of background checks and drug screens the workers take upon hire. I think the monitoring and followup isn't thorough considering the nature of the relationship of the home health aide and their client. Some clients are afraid to "make waves" or risk the "backlash" since the folks who might have stolen their meds, money or family silver know where they live. All of this coupled with the meager amount our elders squeak by on, if they are living on SSI, causes me to wonder if anyone outside of this precious population is thinking about their own future.

Tuesday, August 1 | Report this
Josephine Fresquez

I couldn't agree with Ms. Thibodeaux more. Our elderly are a forgotten population. We recently experienced this first hand and after going to every agency we could think of for help, no one wanted to get involved. Not one state agency would help us. It pretty much fell on deaf ears, as the saying goes. It was really sad to see that a family member could betray their own parent. It resulted in a family torn apart by one persons greed for money and power. This one family member pretty much secluded their parent to a home 5 hours away so they could continue their manipulations of their parents' finances with no one to tell them what to do, My question would be why the judicial system, the state agencies, and everyone else that could have assisted in this situation were not willing to help? Is the system that broken that when it comes to helping the elderly, there pretty much is no such word as "help"? Yet we read about this all the time, it's in the news, it happens in our own families. Who can we really turn to for some kind of justice for our parents, grandparents, family or friends?

Wednesday, August 2 | Report this