Elder financial abuse is a growing problem in the United States and it likely affects many more families than we know, because it often goes undiscovered.
Even when it’s uncovered, families may choose not to report it if they find other means of dealing with it. However, taking the time to understand the situation more clearly and learning how to prevent it from occurring is the best way to protect your own senior loved ones.
This overview can help you keep your elderly parents and others safe from the financial exploitation that can occur.
What is Financial Abuse?
This type of elder abuse has become common enough that the federal government enacted the Elder Justice Act in 2010 to protect seniors. In essence, it makes it a crime to use or access an elderly individual’s finances or personal property for financial gain.
The statute also specifies that an elderly individual’s property or money can’t be illegally used for the benefit of another. This includes using or taking a personal item without the senior’s permission, as well as stealing or convincing the elderly individual to part with their money.
In cases where the senior is a resident in an assisted living facility, the administrative staff may be guilty of financial exploitation in charging for the care of elderly person. They may overcharge for services or charge for services that have not been provided by a long term care coordinator. Family members may never discover this discrepancy unless they carefully review an itemized bill. Even if the overcharging is discovered, those in charge of the senior’s finances may view it as an honest error rather than a deliberate violation of the older Americans act.
Individual staff members in a nursing home may also attempt elder financial abuse. As an adult protective services worker, the staff member may use sympathy or fraud to convince the elder to give them money or other valuables. They may also convince the senior to give them a debit or credit card and supply them with the PIN to access the linked account. Identifying unusual or excessive withdrawals or online spending can help isolate this type of vulnerable adult abuse.
Protecting Against Financial Abuse
Recognize That Every Elder is at Risk
The first step in protecting against any criminal activity is recognizing groups most susceptible to those types of crime. In this case, those most vulnerable adult abuse are senior women over the age of 75 and those suffering from cognitive degeneration. While any elderly individual may be targeted, those with memory loss, poor concentration, or dementia are at the highest risk.
Monitor Accounts Consistently
It’s also important to keep track of checks and cards belonging to the senior. If they live in an assisted living facility, it may be best to keep those items in the family’s home. If the senior lives at home, those items should be kept in a safe. Either way, be sure to check the accounts regularly for any unexplained purchases or withdrawals.
When you’re overseeing the care of elderly person, you may have to let them do certain things for themselves. When this involves participating in financial transactions, it’s a good idea to oversee the exchange. The senior may insist on handling the money themselves and you should let them, but watch to be sure they receive the correct amount of change in return. It might also be wise to ensure they’re receiving the product or service for which they’re paying.
Investigate Sob Stories
If your elderly loved one comes to you with an interest in helping out someone else, you should take it upon yourself to look into the matter. Talk to the individual in question to verify they’re telling you the same story and find ways to back up their claims. It’s up to you and your loved one to decide if you want to help this person, but always make sure they’re telling you the truth.
Be Wary About Giving Cash
A relative may come to the senior about needing money to cover a bill. If that’s the case and the elder wants to help, they should ask to see the bill for themselves. Instead of giving out cash that could be spent elsewhere, instruct the senior to write a check for the exact amount owed. This is the best way to ensure elderly protection, while allowing a relative to receive the help he or she needs.
Make Notes of Every Transaction
The best way to document evidence of a violation of the older Americans act is to get everything in writing. Anytime someone wants to borrow money, whether they’re an adult protective services worker or a close family member, the transaction should be described on paper. Once the terms of the loan, such as when it’s to be repaid and whether interest is to be charged, are defined, both parties should sign the paper. This is a simplified contract, but it can provide the elderly protection your loved one needs. In addition to verifying that money was exchanged, it serves as a reminder that money is owed if that same individual wants to borrow more money in the future.
Be Mindful of a Senior’s Behavior
If your elderly loved one lives in a nursing home or similar facility, you may not always be present to observe financial transactions. In this case, it can help to observe how the senior relates to their long term care coordinator and other staff members. If they seem reluctant to discuss financial matters or seem less communicative when specific staff members are around, they may be trying to conceal incidences of financial abuse. In addition to checking the elder’s financial records, it may be necessary to question them more directly about their financial affairs.
Instruct the Senior to Say No
Your loved one may have a soft heart and may want to help anyone who asks for it. You should do what you can to discourage this habit, because it can quickly drain the elder’s resources and leave them unable to care for themselves. Similarly, they may part with their precious personal belongings until there’s nothing left. You should advise your senior loved one against being overly generous and try to explain that they need their money and belongings to care for themselves. Try to help them understand that they have their own concerns and that they just can’t help every person with a sad story.
Get Professional Help
If you suspect your elderly loved one has been the victim of financial abuse, you might want to consider contacting an experienced attorney. A lawyer who specializes in elder care will know how to investigate the situation and determine if financial abuse really has occurred. He may also be able to help you obtain financial power of attorney over your loved one, so you can remain in control of the senior’s finances. This can help you maintain tighter control over your loved one’s money to ensure it isn’t stolen or given away via fraud.
Financial abuse is one of the hardest types of elder abuse to identify, because it doesn’t leave any physical signs behind. In order to protect your elder loved one, you will have to regularly check their financial statements, just as you would do with your own finances. You may also need to make an inventory of their personal belongings as a means of keeping track of physical assets. While your senior loved one may feel irritated by this type of intervention, it’s the best way to protect against fraud, manipulation, and outright theft.