Financial abuse of elders is growing. This is not surprising! The Office of Financial Protection For Older Americans documents that banks and other institutions filings of “suspicious activity reports” quadrupled between 2013 and 2017. Elders among us are being victimized by predators of all stripes, starting with family members. According to this government agency, checking and savings accounts had the highest monetary losses. They are the easiest to get into. And no matter how much data the government collects, the problem does not seem to be getting better by any measure. Collecting data is not going to fix this issue of financial abuse. We get it that this is serious. The government agencies are busy with statistics but they do not get to the heart of stopping or preventing the problem.
We often hear about abuse at AgingParents.com, in consulting with families, where one sibling contacts us about another sibling using undue influence to take advantage of a grandparent or aging parent. Sometimes an adult child calls us in alarm, as he has just discovered that mom is falling under the spell of a telephone scammer. In other cases, the elder owns real estate and is no longer able to manage it, and tenants are not paying rent or are trashing the property without consequences. Like banks and institutions, they see but do not take much action. Most do not even report the situation to authorities, namely Adult Protective Services (APS). Just seeing a problem is not enough to solve any part of it. Families, unlike banks, do have the power to act quickly. The family has its own hesitation, fear of the need to confront the parent, sibling or other abuser or simply not knowing what to do.
From my vantage point as an RN as well as an attorney, I do not think the government, the banks nor any institution can be counted on to adequately protect vulnerable older people from theft and fraud. Even APS falls short all too often. Collecting suspicious activity reports is not making any difference except to tell us what we already know: it’s getting worse. They are reactive. If anyone wants to prevent abuse, the family, the close friend or watchful concerned person in the elder’s life must step in when something doesn’t look right.
What Actions Can You Take?
People close to the aging parent can ask questions, seek legal advice or collect data so that APS has something to work with in stopping a predator. For example, if the patriarch owns rental properties and he has memory loss and can’t keep track of his own bills every month, that should be notice to the family that he can’t manage his real estate either. The family can make best efforts to persuade the elder to resign from the position of power, get used to the idea of a professional property manager, and offer to help out themselves. Better that than waiting until a tenant hasn’t paid rent for a year and has all sorts of bad things happening in the property. In the worst cases legal action may be needed for another person to take control over the elder victim so that abuse does not go on unabated. It is particularly difficult when the elder with dementia no longer has the capacity to even understand that he is impaired and should not be handling his finances without help. They can stubbornly refuse to allow anyone else to step in. But legal options do exist.
There is reluctance on the part of adult children we meet in our work at AgingParents.com to accept that the formerly successful aging parent is not up to par any longer. It is painful to realize that the parent who was well educated and used to be so capable is now impaired. What the aging parent used to be is what they are going on. It does not work when dementia or other related issues arise. I hear them tell me “she was so smart, she was a professor” or “he was a CEO of a Fortune 500 company” and “how could this happen?” But reality is not about the past. The wake-up call is now.
The Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans is showing us a tiny bit of the problem manifest by required reports. There is much more to the picture. When the patriarch who was used to being in charge begins to decline and no one acts to protect him and his money, it is likely that we will keep seeing more suspicious activity reports. If we don’t want it to affect our own loved ones, we need to be ready to take over for them when the time comes. Many courageous adult children I meet are doing that job and doing it well. It is encouraging and inspiring to see how willing they are to take every necessary measure to keep the aging parent safe from predators. In the end, they benefit personally when their inheritance is not destroyed. Family is the answer.
If you see your own aging loved one in this story and you feel stuck and distressed about what to do, reach out to us at AgingParents.com for strategy with compassion. Act now so you can prevent tragic losses of wealth. Call us at 866-962-4464 or make an appointment online under Services with our Distress Reliever Advice Package
By Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com