It's a sad truth that elder financial abuse is rampant and is only set to get worse. Unscrupulous people eagerly take advantage of seniors and can steal their entire life savings before anyone realizes there's even a problem. While the vast majority of us couldn't imagine doing anything so heinous, a small minority engage in these nefarious activities at any given opportunity. Common offenders are family and friends, but it may also be health providers taking advantage of their position or strangers ensnaring an unwary senior in a scam of some kind. As in all things, prevention is better than cure, so it's important to know both the best ways to prevent elder financial abuse and how to spot potential cases of abuse.
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from the danger and trauma of financial abuse. Let's explore them.
Everybody should have a solid estate plan, a legal will, financial plan, trusted third parties or executors, and any health and end of life directives in place, with copies in place with the appropriate persons. This is particularly important for those approaching their senior years. If your seniors haven't done this yet, encourage them to do so as soon as possible.
Don't Be Too Trusting
The sudden appearance of a too-friendly best friend or overly concerned neighbor should set your alarm bells ringing. Often, abusers target lonely seniors by quickly insinuating themselves as close friends. They'll quickly offer to go take elders shopping or do their shopping for them, or they'll eagerly offer to come in and clean on a regular basis. This kind of behavior gives them unrestricted access to personal information, financial data and PINs.
Two Heads Are Better Than One
Sometimes, family members require help with managing their finances. In these instances, to protect everybody involved, two or three people should share the task of assisting their elders with overseeing financial accounts.
Encourage Open Discourse
Many older people are uncomfortable discussing money. But ensuring your elders aren't being abused can mean having to ask potentially embarrassing questions about their finances. Keep at it. Regularly ask if they've got any cause for concern, whether they are worried about anyone or any situation, whether they need help with their accounts or whether they have any mysterious new people in their lives.
Spotting Elder Financial Abuse
Remember that nobody is above suspicion when it comes to financially exploiting vulnerable seniors. Be vigilant and know what to look for and when to raise the alarm if you suspect abuse. Any of us could find ourselves in this situation as we age, and nobody wants to think of their senior loved ones experiencing emotional and financial trauma at the hands of others. The sooner you spot and stop the abuse, the less damage your seniors will be subjected to.
Evidence of Neglect or Violence
Vulnerable seniors will commonly be subjected to violent outbursts or have care, food or drink withheld until they agree to hand over assets and/or access to financial accounts. Look for rapid weight loss, uncharacteristic unkemptness, evidence of injuries, and an unexplained change in demeanor or behavior. Often, elders are ashamed of finding themselves in this type of situation so tend to hide it, becoming secretive and withdrawn. They may also appear unnecessarily anxious, depressed and distressed.
Bare Cupboards and Unpaid Bills
If you start to notice a lack of food in a senior's house or a mounting number of unpaid bills, this should raise a red flag. Someone who normally manages their finances well and keeps their kitchen stocked wouldn't suddenly start behaving in the opposite way without cause. Start investigating.
Ornaments, sentimental objects, family heirlooms and personal belongings are often scattered all over a senior's house. Should you begin to notice much-loved items disappearing, ask the elder where the item has vanished to. If they can't give you a believable reason, or you see more and more items going missing, it's time to raise the alarm.
Unusual Spending Habits or Transactions
If you happen to be entrusted with copies of financial statements or are added as a third party on financial accounts, keep a close eye on them. Look for changes in spending habits, strange purchases, orders from places the senior wouldn't normally shop, or sudden cash advances or withdrawals as these could indicate financial exploitation.