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Preventing Financial Exploitation of the Elderly: Recognizing and Reporting It

Posted by Daniel J. Eccher, Esq. | Jun 06, 2022

The National Council on Aging defines financial exploitation of the elderly as “the misuse or withholding of an older adult's resources by another.” A form of elder abuse, the elderly are often ripped off by people they know. Perpetrators may try to access the elders' financial accounts or pressure them to give gifts or no-interest loans. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that 58 percent of people who exploit older adults financially are family members, 17 percent are friends or neighbors, and 15 percent are home care aides. 

Common types of financial fraud against the elderly include:

    • Phone calls – A robocall that circulated recently warned that "Your Social Security number has been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity.” Callers typically ask victims for money or to give sensitive information, preying on their fear and other emotions.
    • Phishing – Internet users may receive emails that appear to come from popular websites, including banks, with links to log in or to make payments. Thieves use the information to gain access to accounts or to steal money.
    • Dating sites – Scammers create fake profiles to communicate with users, professing their love for them early on, and later attempting to convince them to wire money or provide private data.
    • Fake charities – These often pop up after a tragedy or a disaster, attempting to take advantage of seniors' generosity, pressuring them to make donations. 
    • Home repair cons – Unscrupulous contractors may ask for full payment up front and not complete any work. 

Beyond these types of fraud, it helps to know the signs of financial abuse. According to Elder Law Answers, they include:

    1. The disappearance of valuable objects;
    2. Withdrawals of large amounts of money, checks made out to cash, or low bank balances;
    3. A new "best friend" and isolation from other friends and family;
    4. Large credit card transactions;
    5. Signatures on checks that look different;
    6. A name added to a bank account or newly formed joint accounts; and
    7. Indications of fear of caregivers. 

Knowing what can happen helps you stay alert to potential fraud and protect the elderly from becoming targets.

How to Protect Seniors From Financial Abuse

Some rules and regulations exist to prevent elder financial fraud. For example, under the Senior Safe Act, inspired by Maine's "Senior$afe" training program, certain insurance and financial institutions or advisors can report suspected fraud against their elderly clients without violating confidentiality rules. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) also has rules to protect their older clients' assets. They include letting member firms temporarily hold disbursing funds or securities when they suspect they're being exploited. 

Besides such measures, those who know and love older people may need to take steps themselves to prevent financial exploitation, such as:

    • Monitoring financial accounts regularly (money transfers, changes in account balances or to who has access). Responsible people can set up direct deposit and create a joint account with the authority to write checks and limit the monetary amounts of debit card transactions. Joint accounts also avoid probate. 
    • Checking legal documents, such as titles, a will, or a durable power of attorney for changes or forged signatures.
    • Looking for behavioral changes – the senior's confusion or shame about money or an unwillingness to discuss their finances.
    • Visiting regularly – Talk to your loved one. Stay involved with them, and notice any signs of financial exploitation. Discuss the latest financial scams and how to avoid them. 
    • Limiting calls and mail solicitations – Add their phone number to the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call Registry online or call 888-382-1222. Sign up for "Nomorobo," "RoboKiller," or similar services to prevent robocalls. Contact the Direct Marketing Association to limit junk mail.

Unscrupulous people may take advantage of senior citizens' good natures. The elderly may also be more susceptible to fraud if they have physical and/or mental health issues. Out of shame or ignorance, those who've been conned might not report the crimes.

Reporting Financial Fraud Against Seniors

If you or someone you know has been the target of financial exploitation, contact law enforcement, Adult Protective Services, local elder agencies at 1-877-353-3771, and any responsible fiduciaries involved. This increases the likelihood of financial recovery. The Maine Council on Elder Abuse Prevention also offers resources to help victims of financial fraud and other forms of abuse.

An experienced attorney can draft documentation, including a durable power of attorney, to aid financial management. For advice and oversight for your situation, contact us online or call us today: (207) 377-6966.

About the Author

Daniel J. Eccher, Esq.

Daniel J. Eccher, Esq. is the Managing Shareholder at Levey, Wagley, Putman & Eccher, P.A., in Winthrop, Maine. Dan's favorite problem to solve is helping clients figure out how to afford long-term care while having something left for their family.

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