As tragic as it is, the elderly often fall victim to those determined to exploit the most vulnerable. To protect your loved one’s money and safety, be on the lookout for financial abuse.
What does financial elder abuse look like?
Financial abuse occurs when friends, family, caregivers, or businesses trick or coerce the elderly out of their money. The most common forms of abuse include:
* Stolen Information- Someone close to the victim steals his or her financial data and uses to make transactions.
* Telemarketing Fraud- The abuser calls the victim, offers a bogus product or prize, and convinces the victim to send money or financial information in exchange.
* Forged Information- The abuser forges the victim’s signature and uses it to withdraw money or make purchases.
* Coerced Privileges- The abuser forces the victim to grant power of attorney or other rights.
As an example, I was once involved in a case in which the elderly person was repeatedly paying a handyman for jobs around her home. However, upon inspection, it was clearly apparent that no work had ever been performed by this handyman.
In another instance, the “caregiver” had taken possession of the elderly person’s checkbook and was forging numerous checks.
Because victims often fail to report abuse, it is difficult to reliably estimate its prevalence. Many times, the elderly person simply isn’t aware or feels embarrassed by being swindled so easily. According to a 2010 study by the Investor Protection Trust, 20% of people over the age of 65 have suffered from financial abuse. A 2011 MetLife study put the annual cost of abuse at $2.9 billion.
How can I protect my loved ones from abuse?
The first step to preventing elder abuse is to identify major risk factors. Abusers are most likely to target someone who is over the age of 80, female, physically and/or mentally disabled. Often times, the elderly person is simply lonely and the scammer fakes friendship to gain trust. If any of your loved ones fall into these categories, watch out for the following warning signs:
* Hemorrhaging Finances- Watch your loved one’s bank statement, paying attention to large purchases.
* Caregiver Exclusion- If the person assigned to take care of your loved one tries to stop other people from talking to them, he or she is probably hiding something.
* Outstanding Opportunities- If your loved one mentions having won some great prize or gift, ask him or her to explain the details. If claiming the prize requires sending over tax payments or valuable information, it is likely a scam.
If you have reason to believe that your loved one is being abused, contact the Virginia Department of Social Services. The Department will send an Adult Protective Services agent to your loved one’s home to assess the situation and offer advice for avoiding future abuse. If your loved one has already lost large amounts of money, consult an elder law attorney as soon as possible to see what your options are for recovering losses.
In addition, you should consider contacting an attorney. I would be happy to speak with you about what steps may be taken to limit any further damage and potentially recoup funds. When an elderly person is subject to ongoing harm, one possible outcome may be the limitation of accounts and appointment of a guardian and conservator pursuant to Virginia law. Additionally, there may be alternatives to guardianship or conservatorship.
Ryan C. Young | Richmond, Virginia Attorney | Guardianship Attorney and Estate Law