financial abuse can leave elders feeling isolated

Your long-time resident, Charlotte, is a woman in her mid-80s. For the past decade, she has settled into your community, become friends with other residents, and joined the many stimulating activities you offer. She has always flourished within the community, but lately, she has been keeping to herself. Staff and other residents have mentioned they’ve missed her at the gardening and craft classes that she used to regularly attend. She may just want some time to herself, but is there more to her abnormal behavior? You’ve provided Charlotte with a warm home and the daily assistance she needs, but have you thought about the unseen dangers lingering around her?

According to research done by True Link Financial in 2015, “seniors lose approximately $36.48 billion each year to financial abuse — more than twelve times what was previously reported.” While Charlotte was making herself at home in your community, con artists, corrupt professionals, or unscrupulous family members have potentially been making themselves comfortable with her wallet. So, how can you ensure your residents have the protection they deserve? The solution begins by knowing the warning signs and becoming aware of the types of financial abuse that exist today.

What Are the Signs of Elder Financial Exploitation?

While individuals may react in different ways, some common signs and symptoms of financial abuse include:

  • Mental or physical decline
  • Social isolation
  • Sudden changes in personality or behavior
  • Argumentative attitude and tense body language
  • Money or personal items have gone missing
  • Large, unexpected withdrawals have been made from bank accounts
  • Suspicious changes in wills or titles in the elder’s name

What Are the Types of Financial Abuse?

Unfortunately, there are many angles swindlers can take when trying to take advantage of seniors. Here are the most commonly-known scams and financial fraud cases:

Phone, Mail, and Internet Scams

In order to trick victims into giving them money, con artists claim seniors will receive money, goods, or services if they pay a fee or make certain purchases. After the payment has been made and the crook has pocketed the money, the deal will close and the elder will not receive anything in return.

Identity Theft and Healthcare Fraud

Once a perpetrator has access to personal information such as credit and social security cards, they have the ability to steal money and property. This type of theft can increase during tax season, as scammers use seniors’ social security numbers to file taxes and steal refunds. Scammers have also been known to impersonate the IRS in order to persuade seniors that they owe money. Moreover, once access to Medicare and Medicaid accounts is achieved, scammers can make fake claims and reap the benefits of the government programs.

“Grandparent” Scams

Tugging at the heartstrings of older generations, a perpetrator can impersonate a child or grandchild that is in need of financial assistance. In these cases, money is usually wired directly or sent in prepaid cards to the scammer.

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

These schemes are successful when the con artist convinces seniors that they have won money from a sweepstake or lottery. In order to receive the winnings, the seniors are prompted to pay a fee. Once the payment is made to the con artist, contact with the senior is usually cut off. However, in some cases, con artists will go as far as sending a fake check in the mail, promoting the appearance of a real lottery or sweepstakes.

Investment Fraud

In these situations, scammers pose as professional investors that want to help seniors invest their money wisely in order to double or triple their savings. Perpetrators will often create confusing sales pitches in hopes that seniors will go along with their story. This type of fraud also includes cases in which hustlers pose as “wealthy foreigners” that ask for bank information, claiming they’ll transfer large sums of money into seniors’ accounts.

Elder Financial Exploitation by a Family Member

As unfortunate as it is, seniors may need to be protected from their own family members. Some individuals may feel entitled to their loved one’s money or will take advantage of a senior with dementia that prevents sound decision making. In other cases, family members will have financial control over a loved one’s assets or savings and end up making decisions that are for their own benefit, not the senior’s. A family member could also encourage a senior to sign documents transferring financial benefits or decision-making abilities, even if a senior doesn’t understand the consequences of signing.

It’s important to note that there are many levels of senior care, ranging from around-the-clock supervision to independent residents that have less guidance and support. Due to this vast range, some seniors may be higher-risk candidates for potential scams than others.

How Can I Prevent Elder Financial Abuse?

One of the most vital prevention methods is to educate seniors and keep them informed of potential threats. Providing seniors with knowledge of scams and fraudulent cases will allow them to be prepared if they come into contact with scammers.

Another way to help stop financial abuse in its tracks is to put procedures in place to stop fraud before it occurs. Ensure your staff is keeping personal health information (PHI), such as insurance cards and social security numbers, strictly confidential. You should also provide training and education so employees are knowledgeable about the signs of elder financial abuse and their responsibilities as mandated reporters. If anyone has any suspicion of abuse, they should know how to quickly and easily report it to authorities.

How Do I Take Care of Elder Financial Abuse Reporting?

If there are any signs indicating fraud or abuse, you should contact the local police department and your state’s Adult Protective Services office so they can investigate the situation. You can also report cases of Social Security fraud here.

For more information regarding the prevention of abuse, check out your local Agency on Aging or see Senior Living U’s Abuse and Neglect eLearning Course.