In an increasing — and alarming — number of cases, older adults become the victims of financial abuse, often at the hands of family members, guardians and other care partners. As many as one in 20 seniors reports having been the victim of financial abuse, and the problem cost victims nearly $3 billion last year.
A group of experts recently recommended several possible remedies to the Senate Aging Committee. Their suggestions included creating legal arrangements less restrictive than formal guardianships, alerting seniors and their family members when a guardian is appointed, and requiring guardians to notify courts when individuals receiving care have recovered the ability to make their own decisions.
In addition to any government action to curb the problem, what steps can seniors and their family members take to prevent elder financial abuse?
Understand the Problem
The first step in preventing elder financial abuse is identifying it. Examples of financial abuse of seniors include money vanishing from bank accounts, theft of valuable items and identity theft.
Common signs of financial abuse include sudden and large changes in account balances, cash transfers or withdrawals that are not easily explained, new lines of credit appearing on credit reports, and checks signed into someone else’s name. In addition, changes in wills, powers of attorney and other legal documents may be cause for concern.
Take Pre-emptive Action as a Family
The best time to prevent elder financial abuse is before it begins. Seniors and their family members should work together to develop a strategy for prevention, including having more than one family member authorized to review accounts and scheduling family meetings to discuss any changes in the elder’s financial status.
Guard Sensitive Information
Seniors and their care partners should take steps to safeguard sensitive financial information, including account numbers, passwords and Social Security numbers. Shred bank statements, receipts and other financial documents, and keep checkbooks locked in a safe location.
Use Caution When Hiring Care Partners
Seniors and their family members should check background information and credentials before hiring individuals to provide care, especially within a senior’s private residence. Avoid giving outside care partners access to any financial information, including sensitive information such as Social Security numbers.
Report Suspicious Activity Immediately
Elder financial abuse is a crime that can deplete critical financial resources and affect seniors’ physical and emotional health. If elders or their family members spot suspicious financial activity, they should report it immediately to the proper authorities and take quick action to protect the senior’s assets and personal information.
By planning ahead and watching for signs of elder financial abuse, seniors and their family members can reduce the risks.