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Elderly Financial Abuse

(Do you know the signs?)

Senior Citizens are a tempting target for fraud because they account for a majority of wealth in the country. Financial abuse against the elderly can affect people of all ethnic backgrounds and social status and can affect both men and women. The personal losses associated with abuse can be devastating. The senior may lose their independence, homes, life savings, health, dignity and security.

Phony telemarketers and Internet schemers aren’t the only groups ripping off older Americans hard earned money. Family members are more often the abusers than any other group. Elderly people hesitate to tell about financial exploitation by a family member because they rationalize it’s not happening and they are ashamed to think of a family member as a criminal.

Listed below are tips on how to recognize Elderly Financial Abuse and want to do if it occurs:

What is Elderly Financial Abuse?

  • Illegal or improper use of an elderly person’s money, property or other valuables, either by a caregiver or outside scam artist.

Common Scams

  • “Sweetheart” scams – alleged suitors woo older people, convincing them that love and care are their motivations for being included on bank accounts or property deeds; the suitors usually disappear along with property and/or money.

  • Lottery scams/sweepstakes – “You have won the lottery”- senior citizens are tricked into believing they will become wealthy overnight, but first they have to wire money for “fees and taxes” before they can collect the grand prize.

  • Repair/contracting scams – Typically working in teams of two or more, scammers scour neighborhoods with a high concentration of elderly residents, or track recent widows and widowers through obituaries and death notices, then appear on their doorsteps claiming to spot something in need of fixing, such as a hole in the roof or a clogged drainpipe.

    The scammers demand payment up front, and then often claim that their initial investigation reveals a more serious problem, with a more expensive solution. The “work” they do is unlicensed and often shoddy, such as applying paint to a roof to make it appear as if it has been tangibly fixed.

    Another twist to this scam, one alleged worker might distract the homeowner while another enters the house to steal money and other valuables.

  • Forged deeds – Many scammers cloak their actions in legal authority, procuring a power of attorney, a will or other legal document giving them access to a senior’s property. They get seniors to sign these documents by lying to, intimidating, or threatening the seniors. The scammer convinces the senior citizen that parting with their home or other property is for their own good.

  • Pigeon drop – In a typical pigeon drop, two suspects approach an elderly person in a retail shopping area or near an ATM. They claim they have just found a package or wallet containing a large amount of money. One of the suspects volunteers to check with a “boss” offsite to get advice on what to do with the found money, then reports that it came from an illegal source such as gambling or narcotics.

    The scammers offer to split the money, but only after the elderly person shows “good faith” by producing money of his or her own. When the scammers send the senior to the “boss” to get the promised share of the money, the senior discovers that there is no boss and the suspects have disappeared.

Who are Typical Victims?

  • Ages 70 to 89
  • White
  • Female
  • Frail
  • Cognitively impaired
  • Trusting of others
  • Lonely or isolated

Who commits the crime?

  • Crooks
  • Family, caregivers, neighbors
  • Most perpetrators aren’t strangers. They’ve gained victims trust.

What does the abuser “look like?”

  • Shows excessive interest in senior’s assets
  • Demonstrates excessive control over senior
  • Controls phone use by senior
  • May guilt senior into giving them money to help pay bills or keep them out of trouble with the promise of paying them back, but they never do. Instead the abuser keeps asking for more money.

The Following could be Signs of Elderly Financial Abuse:

  • Sudden changes in account practices
  • Unexplained withdrawals of large sums
  • ATM use if senior is house-bound
  • Large credit card transactions
  • Checks written to unusual recipients
  • Sudden transfer of assets to family member or acquaintance
  • Large number of checks written to individuals
  • Senior seems afraid of a companion
  • Senior exhibits paranoia

Preventing Elderly Financial Abuse and Neglect

  • Check on them regularly and watch for changes.
  • When you talk with them; do they understand what’s going on?
  • Monitor their living situation; are they taking care of themselves?
  • Take them to a doctor for a physical check. They can be assessed for cognitive function, and you can ask questions, such as, “Mom seems to be losing track of her finances”. Is there a medical reason for this?

Contacting Authorities
If you suspect someone is exploiting an individual:

  • Call Adult Protective Services listed under the Department of Health and Human Services or Social Services
  • Contact Local Law Enforcement
  • Contact the person’s financial institution
  • If it’s an emergency, call 911

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