By Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com
Cities and counties have educational programs. So do senior centers. Public information about financial elder abuse is offered by AARP. And yet, we still have a $36B a year problem of money being stolen from elders. All the efforts to educate seem directed right at seniors. It’s not working very well. Why?
There are several reasons we see here at AgingParents.com where we work regularly with families of elders. Elders are taken advantage of because they are caught off guard, because they forget the warnings that agencies and government put out, and because clever criminals, some of whom are family members, know just how to exploit the elder.
Scammers, unscrupulous family members, and thieves are aware that older people in our society own a significant amount of wealth: homes, stock accounts, investment real estate, businesses and more. These evil people also know that as people age many of them lose their ability to keep track of finances, to remember recent events and that they become confused when dementia develops. The abusers seek out elders and they know just how to take advantage of their weaknesses.
We believe that families are the key to thwarting financial abuse of aging loved ones.
Families need to know how to keep elders financially safer by first understanding the extent of the financial abuse issue. It’s huge and it’s everywhere. No aging parent is immune, now matter how smart, how educated, and how sophisticated with finances they may have been before. Aging creates vulnerability.
Imagine the elder who gets a 3:00am call from someone pretending to be a grandchild in trouble in a foreign country, asking for money immediately. The aging parent is sleepy and caught off guard, an easy victim. Confused and fearful, she complies and wires money somewhere before thinking about it. This “Grandma Scam” has been around for years. If scammers weren’t making money from it, they would stop. Yet, it persists because it is successful for thieves. But regular warnings and monitoring from concerned family just might stop Grandma from wiring those funds. If a family member’s name is on the account, his or her approval can be required so that a withdrawal like that can be stopped.
The elders themselves, the supposed consumers of the prevention programs, may be losing their capacity to remember the information so carefully presented to them by government and various agencies. Stopping abuse means family taking responsibility to monitor your loved ones frequently. The older they are, the more monitoring is needed, because the risk of dementia rises with age. By age 85, at least one-third of our aging parents will have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common kind of dementia. Dementia and elder abuse often go together.
We as adult children want to honor our loved ones’ independence but independence has limits. If an 85 year old in your life has memory problems and is getting somewhat confused at times, consider those things warning signs that total independence with money has become very dangerous. If you ignore the warning signs, you are honoring the scammers, not your aging loved ones.
There are classic warning signs of financial abuse every family member should know. Among them are isolation. Someone, often a relative, isolates the elder, cutting off contact with everyone. Abusers like to operate in secret. Another is a sudden change of legal documents such as Durable Power of Attorney. In the right hands, this document can help protect a vulnerable aging parent. In the wrong hands, it is a license to steal. Maxing out credit cards, and unusual changes in spending are also possible warning signs. AgingParents.com has created a checklist for you of ten warning signs of financial elder abuse. Get your free copy now at AgingParents.com, CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD NOW!
This checklist of warning signs is for you, the adult child or caregiver. The elder, seeing it, would probably say he or she isn’t dumb enough to do all that or it doesn’t apply because “I feel fine”. You now know better. We hope you will remain alert to red flags and do all you can to prevent your loved ones from being victimized. You are the key.