As our parents age, it can be painful to realize that they are no longer able to do everything for themselves. Whether they need some help driving, performing household chores, or caring for their finances, it is important to recognize when the elders in your life need help. Of course, recognizing the problem and convincing them to let you help can be very different. Although it can be hard, it is incredibly important to remain observant and involved in the lives of our elder loved ones. By paying attention, we can hopefully help them avoid some of the devastation caused by those who would do them harm. Very often, crimes against the elderly involve financial exploitation. While physical abuse is often easy to spot, financial abuse can be more difficult to detect, as victims often have no idea they’re being swindled until their money suddenly vanishes.
Most victims are more than 70 or 80 years old, and involve crimes like fraud, embezzlement, identity theft, along with welfare and insurance scams. If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, be on the lookout for the following red flags of financial abuse:
Unusual financial transactions or spending
The most obvious sign an elderly family member is being exploited is if there are sudden changes to their spending, banking, and/or financial practices. At the same time, the person may start behaving secretively, confused, or otherwise atypical regarding money matters. A few of the most frequent actions include:
- Someone who is normally meticulous about his or her finances suddenly starts seeing unpaid bills, non-sufficient funds warnings, and/or unexplained credit card charges.
- The elderly person starts opening, closing, or changing bank and investment accounts, especially without regard to penalties or fees.
- Someone with consistent spending patterns starts showing a sharp increase in spending and/or investing.
- The person’s account sees a suspicious increase in ATM use, withdrawals, and/or checks made out to unfamiliar recipients.
The appearance of a “new” person in their life
Because they can sometimes feel alone and isolated, seniors are particularly susceptible to being “befriended” by strangers who take advantage of their loneliness to exploit them. Truth be told, it may not always be a stranger—relatives who haven’t been around for years can suddenly start spending lots of time with the person.
This situation is particularly dangerous when the new acquaintance, caregiver, or relative spends time in the person’s home, where they have easy access to the person’s accounts, financial statements, and personal documents.
One sign that something is amiss is if the senior acts unusual when it comes to the new caregiver or friend. They may seem nervous when that person is around, stop participating in their usual social events, or are reluctant to speak about the person with you. This is a red flag the new person may be trying to isolate or control them.
Unneeded goods, services, or subscriptions
Outside of loneliness, the elderly are often physically unable to handle household chores and maintenance like they used to. Given this change in circumstances, they’ll likely need service providers to take care of the work for them. But every new person they surround themselves with introduces a new potential vulnerability.
Watch for unscrupulous door-to-door salesmen and home repair contractors who stop by offering unsolicited products or services, especially related to home remediation issues. These tricksters don’t have to be physically present to perpetrate fraud—there are countless telemarketing and email scams that target unsuspecting seniors in order to make a quick buck or steal their identity.
One fairly common scam involves inviting the older person to a free lunch or dinner in exchange for listening to a seminar about a financial product or service. The elderly often feel obligated to “buy something” after getting what they thought was a free meal.
Make sure that another adult relative is present before signing any contracts, and always consult with an attorney if you’re unfamiliar with a new investment or financial opportunity.
Changes to wills, trusts, titles, power of attorney, etc.
The worst cases of financial abuse of the elderly can even involve the person making changes to wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents. Other potentially harmful changes can involve deeds, refinanced mortgages, property titles, and/or adding someone to a joint account.
Pay especially close attention if the older person seeks to grant power of attorney to someone out of the ordinary, as this can open the door for massive theft of assets and potentially fatal changes in a senior’s caregiving services.
Start now by introducing the seniors in your life to an attorney you trust. An attorney can build a relationship with your loved ones now, while they are able to communicate their wishes, goals, and preferences. This will provide one more safety net who can check in on the senior as he or she ages.
One reason financial scams are so hard to detect is that the elderly—like all of us—are embarrassed to admit they’ve been swindled, or they may not want to get a new “friend” or relative in trouble by telling others about their suspicions.
However, anyone can fall prey to financial fraud! At The Tyra Law Firm, we help secure your family’s most valuable assets with robust legal protections to prevent fraud and scams of all kinds. If you are caring for an elderly person, or just want to ensure your future is protected by making the most informed decisions for yourself and your loved ones, start by calling our office at (301) 315-0811, to schedule an appointment with an experienced estate planning attorney today!