Almost any older individual can be vulnerable to financial abuse: that is, someone taking advantage of their relationship to steal money, property, or belongings. If you have elderly parents, relatives, or people you care about, it’s important to be aware of the issue. By recognizing the possibility of elder financial abuse and taking preventive steps, you can protect them, as well as yourself and your family, from financial losses and hardship.
What is elder financial abuse?
Elder financial abuse can involve a relative, caregiver, or supposed friend whom the older person trusts. Examples of financial abuse could include:
- Taking a senior’s money or property without consent
- Forging a senior’s signature
- Using deception, coercion or undue influence to get an older person to sign a deed, will or power of attorney
- Using an older person’s property or possessions without permission
- Billing for care or other services without delivering
- Using the phone, internet, or social media to fraudulently obtain cash, credit card numbers or account numbers and passwords.
What are the warning signs?
If you’re helping an older person with household finances, signs of potential abuse could include:
- Frequent, large, or unexplained withdrawals
- Unusual or unprecedented ATM activity
- Withdrawals or transfers that the senior can’t explain
- Signing up for accounts with services the senior doesn’t understand
- Non-sufficient funds or unpaid bills
- New financial behaviors, such as sudden “loans” or “gifts”
- Suspicious signatures and/or forgery on checks
- Confused or fearful behavior related to their financial matters
- Bank statements stop being delivered to their address
- A non-family member conducting financial transactions on behalf of the senior
- Engaging and sharing personal information with a new “friend” online
How can you prevent financial abuse of the elderly?
Prevention is key to avoiding financial abuse. Be alert to the warning signs and continue to discuss the issue with the senior in your care. Here are some additional tips for you:
- Remind older people to keep their personal information private: social security number, account information, online accounts, passwords and any type of PIN
- Have a trustworthy person act as an agent in any estate-planning matters
- Maintain a relationship with the senior’s banker and others who handle their finances
- Check references and credentials of any potential caretakers
- Secure checkbooks, account statements, and other sensitive information in a private but accessible place
- Reinforce anti-scam and fraud prevention practices
- Encourage payments with checks or credit cards instead of cash so transactions can be recorded and tracked
If the senior you care about seems particularly susceptible to elder financial abuse, you can take further proactive steps. Talk with them about establishing a durable power of attorney with you or a trusted relative or professional. This helps ensure that their finances are managed properly if they are not able to do so themselves.
Preventing financial abuse for older adults is an ongoing effort and awareness is the crucial first step. If you are assisting an older individual – or are a senior yourself – and have questions or concerns, you can speak with a financial professional at any Cinfed location. Click here for a directory or to schedule an appointment.