Financial fraud, scams and exploitation of the elderly is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s not just “the mob”, overseas “pirates”, or corporations greedily infiltrating their come ons with nefarious fine print. Sometimes it’s a friend, a trusted caregiver or even a family member who gets a whiff of the green and decides to act out their dreams of living the high life. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that 90 percent of the perpetrators are family members or people the victims know well.
A cautionary tale, from the NY Times, May 27, 2018, “She Found Comfort in a Brooklyn Diner, Then Lost Everything”.
After my Dad died, my brother became Mom’s on site care manager, and I became the CFO for their household. It took months to sort through and sort out her financial affairs. Mom had been a bookkeeper in her career and I always took her words, “Everything’s fine with us,” at face value, even during the Great Recession of 2008. What I later discovered was not abuse, but troublesome, none the less.
- Their Homeowner’s Insurance Policy had lapsed
- IRS audit – she, at age 85, had listed 6 dependents, only completed one page and failed to sign the return in 2010
- She was paying an amount equal to the number of gallons each time home heating oil was delivered rather than paying the monthly coupon amount
- She had checked a box for “free shipping” once when she purchased a gift online, and was thereafter a member of a “discount club” being charged monthly
- She had a subscription for “The Hundred Best Books,” and only paid for the books she enjoyed!
- And then there was the time she called my brother to come home from work and bring her a check for $300, so she could give the salesman in her house the down payment for a new mattress. WHAT?
Common Warning Signs
Some of the most common indicators that someone is the victim of financial abuse are:
- Unexplained changes in spending habits
- Sudden payments made with cash
- Disappearing assets, including valuables, cash, or securities
- Changes to a trust, will, or beneficiaries
- Surrendering financial control to a new person
- Unexplained loans
- Fear or anxiety when talking about money or assets
If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to initiate a conversation with the older adult to delve deeper. Sometimes victims might not be upfront. Perhaps they’ve been lulled into thinking that the perpetrator isn’t taking advantage of the situation. Or they might be ashamed or embarrassed by their actions.
It Can Happen to Anyone
Here are a series of short videos that offer ten easy steps to keep yourself safe, offered “Senior Safe and Sound…Education, Prevention, Protection.” This on-line resource is a project of Paul J. Hynes, CEO and Founder of HearthStone Private Wealth Management. He is “passionate about fighting financial elder abuse. Having personally witnessed the heartache and devastation brought upon a senior in [his] family who was victimized by a devious crook, [he] took action.” He created Senior Safe and Sound to help educate the public and prevent financial elder abuse. Their goal is “to ensure that you have the awareness and information you need to keep yourself and your money safe.” Now the ball’s in your court. Take steps to protect yourself and those you care about.