How to Spot Financial Abuse
Elder abuse, specifically that of a financial nature, is something that isn’t widely spoken about. A lot of people don’t even realize it’s happening or that it’s a prevalent issue within the senior community. In reality, elder financial abuse is a huge business these days. It’s been estimated that senior adults lose over $36 billion dollars each year to scams, fraud, and exploitation. What’s even scarier than that large dollar amount is that many of the tactics used to get that money are legal and affect roughly thirty-seven percent of older American citizens without them even realizing it.
Seniors are especially vulnerable to financial abuse for numerous reasons, the primary one being an age-related decline in cognition. Other factors could be the fact that there is a higher concentration of wealth in the older population which make them more desirable targets for thieves or scammers. All in all, seniors tend to be more trusting than younger people. The era older people grew up in was generally more trusting than we are today. It was a time when people weren’t afraid to leave their front door unlocked or to offer somebody a ride. While a trait like this could be wonderful when it comes to striking up a conversation with a stranger or making new friends, it’s also something that people look for when they are aiming to do something dishonest.
Who is doing this though? Unfortunately, financial abuse is usually carried out by someone close to the victim. Typically, this would include family, friends, or a trusted person like a neighbor. Other perpetrators could be attorneys, banks or other financial institutions or even health care providers. There are so many ways that these scams can come to fruition though. Those random phone calls or emails that have been going around more often than not these days? That’s a form of financial abuse that many seniors are falling victim to. These scams claim to be associated with some sort of prize or lottery and convince people to send over their bank or tax information in order to collect their winnings. Email phishing is another common form of financial abuse as well. This year, there have been a lot of emails and text messages going around where people are pretending to be affiliated with the IRS and are requesting bank and other personal information in order to receive a “second stimulus check.” The websites that are linked in the messages often look legitimate and are claiming many victims. There is also the risk of running into pyramid or “get rich quick” schemes where potential employers require some type of initial investment in order to make a great amount of money in little to no time.
The effects of financial abuse are often worse than the abuse itself. Not only is the financial loss a hardship, but victims also tend to experience a loss of trust in the people around them, depression, anger and shame that something like that could have happened to them. The stress and pressure of bouncing back and dealing with the consequences of the abuse can also lead to a decline in their physical health as well.
While all of this information can be extremely scary and negative, there are things you can do to combat financial abuse and protect your older friends and family. Firstly, help them remain socially active. All too often seniors are left sitting alone at home or in a nursing home with little to no friends and family to look after them. Isolation contributes to their vulnerability, so do what you can to keep up with them and help them stay connected to the outside world.
Avoid joint bank accounts or, if they’re necessary, help them keep an eye out for abnormal activity. It might seem like a good idea to allow multiple people access to an account to assist with making payments, deposits and withdrawals but it’s also an easy route for theft and abuse. Lastly, the risk of financial abuse tends to skyrocket when a senior experiences a significant decrease in cognitive ability and decision making. Invoking power of attorney can be a proactive way to assist them in controlling their wealth and assets as long as this person has the senior’s best interests at heart. There are also legal services available to help navigate the process.
Fighting this issue and keeping an eye out for dishonest behavior can seem like a lot to take on with the countless other happenings in the world. However there are numerous ways to protect yourself and your older loved ones and once these practices are in place they aren’t difficult to maintain.