Recently Groves Law, LLC has seen an increase in elder financial abuse cases. The rise in cases in our practice has been significant and we wondered about the national statistics on financial abuse of seniors. Not surprisingly, a majority of these cases go unreported leading to speculative statistics. Current estimates indicate that there may be at least five million elderly victims of financial abuse annually. It is believed that only one in twenty-five cases is reported. In 2010, financial abuse against the elderly resulted in losses in excess of 2.9 billion dollars.
Who is vulnerable?
• Seniors over the age of 60.
• Older people who are isolated.
• People suffering from dementia.
• Elderly who live with their caregivers or friends may be at increased risk.
Who perpetrates these crimes against the elderly?
• Family members
Abuse by family members. Sadly, many adult children who siphon money from a parent often justify their theft by calling it an “advancement” on their “anticipated inheritance.” In reality, without the express, uncoerced permission of a parent, such a concept does not exist. Alternatively, some adult children resent the fact that long-term care costs chew into their anticipated inheritance. In these situations, children often justify spending less on a parent’s care on the basis that the parent is unaware of his or her surroundings so “it doesn’t really matter” where they live. Fortunately not all adult children feel this way and are willing to hold their siblings accountable for theft and care placement.
Abuse by caregivers. Not surprisingly, financial exploitation by a caregiver is often a matter of proximity. Caregivers have access to checkbooks, jewelry, and other assets. Caregivers also may position themselves to isolate the senior from family and friends resulting in an elderly person’s misperception that the caregiver is the only person who really cares for him or her.
Abuse by strangers. Unfortunately, older people are often the victims of fraud in the form of sham sweepstakes, charities, home repairs and other confidence games. Once the senior bites, they are ripe for repeated attempts to defraud them of assets. It is not uncommon for older people to deplete nearly all of their assets before family members even become aware of the scams.
How to protect those you love.
• Be present. The less isolated and alone a senior is, the less likely he or she will be victimized. Dropping by unannounced, with frequency is best.
• Caller ID. Install caller id on an older person’s phone. When visiting, scroll through the recent call list to see if there are calls from people you do not know.
• Mail. Seniors who receive a lot of junk mail may have been marked by scammers as someone who is likely to contribute money. An increase in junk mail can be an indicator that your loved one has already contributed funds to an agency. While certain contributions may be legitimate, those that aren’t will persist with repeated requests for additional pledges. Seniors may become fearful if they do not comply.
• Accounting. Don’t be embarrassed to ask the person controlling assets for an accounting. Many powers of attorney or other estate documents will require annual accounting to other beneficiaries. If the person in charge of finances is operating with the best interests of the older person in mind, he or she will be willing to share this information. Anyone who makes assurances but fails to provide actual documentation is suspect.