Elder Financial Abuse Prevention
Elder Financial Abuse Prevention
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is recognized on June 15 each year. It’s a day that promotes a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons––both by raising awareness and providing education. As many as 1 in 10 older Americans are abused or neglected each year, with only 1 in 24 cases ever reported to the authorities. An increasingly common form of elder abuse is when an abuser exploits the resources of an elder for monetary benefit, profit, or gain. This is known as elder financial abuse. Raising awareness about this growing issue is particularly important in Maine due to our state’s rapidly aging population. If you’re a friend or family member of a Maine senior, asking yourself these questions and recognizing the red flags may help you in preventing or responding to elder financial abuse:
Are they isolated?
When an older Mainer is isolated or limited in their mobility, they may lower their guard and trust people they wouldn’t normally interact with. Isolated seniors are easily targeted, as they aren’t often in contact with constant support systems. If you are a friend or family member of an older Mainer, make an effort to increase contact and regularly check in to make sure they aren’t being taken advantage of.
Are there new people in their lives?
Not every new person in a senior’s life is necessarily there for nefarious purposes. However, it’s important to pay attention to the motives and actions of any new people. Those committing elder financial fraud will often masquerade as friends and interject themselves into conversations about finances or legal matters. A major red flag would be a new person driving the senior to the credit union, or to their lawyer or financial advisor’s office. And while you should certainly be cognizant of new people, keep an eye out for long-time friends or family suddenly showing more interest in the financial situation of the elder. A sad reality is that nearly 90% of all elder abuse cases are perpetrated by family members. Regardless of whether it’s a new or familiar face, pay attention to situations where people suddenly show increased interest in the senior’s finances, or even want to be caregivers. Be certain to monitor continuously, ask questions, and don’t accept anything but complete, logical answers.
Are they exhibiting unusual behavior?
If the senior in your life starts giving away money, transferring assets to people, or writing checks to “cash,” this should be a red flag. Another red flag would be if you start noticing an unexplainable living situation––with it changing or deteriorating, and simply not matching up with their monthly retirement income. If the senior in your life is suddenly getting eviction notices, “final warnings,” or is missing utility payments when they’ve been able to make those payments in the past, that may be evidence of elder financial abuse.
Are things missing or being used without their permission?
Theft is an obvious red flag. However, even borrowing or using property without permission is a form of elder financial abuse. For example, if someone starts driving around a senior’s vehicle without consent, that’s abuse––even if the senior is no longer driving it anymore.
Are they changing legal or financial documents?
If there are sudden changes to estate documents, insurance policies, retirement accounts, or any other legal or financial documents, that’s a definite red flag. This is especially true with those experiencing a cognitive decline, as they may be being coaxed into these decisions by others with malicious and selfish intent.
How do I better spot or prevent red flags?
One of the best ways is to maintain regular contact with the seniors in your life. An isolated senior is an easy target and your regular presence or contact may be what’s needed to deter potential abuse. Trust your gut. Ask questions. Don’t assume that someone else has already reported a suspicious situation.
To report suspected elder financial abuse, contact the Maine Office of Aging and Disability Services, where calls can be made anonymously. You can also reach out to Connected Credit Union, as Maine credit unions have been leaders in working to prevent financial exploitation through training, awareness, and advocacy. Most importantly, if a senior is ever in immediate physical danger, call 911.
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