In a perfect world, the elderly would never have to be victims of physical or financial abuse, but since this is not a perfect world, keeping an eye on the seniors you care about can be necessary for their safety. While physical abuse is easier to spot, it can be detecting financial abuse is harder. Oftentimes, the first warning you have is when the victims’ money suddenly vanishes.
Common crimes are fraud, embezzlement, identity theft, along with welfare and insurance scams, and they tend to target victims who are more than 70 or 80 years old. If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, be on the lookout for the following red flags of financial abuse:
1) Unusual financial transactions or spending
The biggest red flag that 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 about money matters. Some frequent examples include:
- Someone who is normally meticulous about their finances suddenly starts seeing unpaid bills, non-sufficient funds warnings, and/or unexplained credit card charges.
- The elderly person starts opening, closing, or changing banking 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.
2) The appearance of a “new” person in their life
Seniors are particularly susceptible to being “befriended” by strangers who take advantage of their loneliness to exploit them. It may not even be a stranger—relatives who haven’t been around for years can suddenly start spending lots of time with the person. Be especially cautious 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.
If the senior acts unusual when it comes to their new caregiver/friend, something is probably amiss. They may seem nervous when that person is around, stop participating in their usual social events, or be reluctant to speak about the person with you. This is a red flag the new person may be trying to isolate or control them.
3) Unneeded goods, services, or subscriptions
Because the elderly are often physically unable to handle household chores and maintenance the way they used to, they’ll likely need service providers to take care of the work for them. Keep in mind, though, that every new person they surround themselves with is a potential swindler.
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. They don’t have to 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 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 us if you’re unfamiliar with a new investment or financial opportunity.
4) Changes to wills, trusts, titles, power of attorney, etc.
The worst case scenarios involve the senior 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.
Keep in mind that it is human nature to not want to admit to being fooled by a scam, or to get relatives and new friends into trouble by telling others our suspicions. This is exactly why it can be hard to detect financial scams. One major advantage to establishing a relationship with a lawyer during your early years is they get to know you while you’re young, healthy, and clear, so any strange decisions are obvious and able to be mitigated before something goes horribly wrong.
Anyone can fall prey to financial fraud, so it’s important the elderly know that you’ve hired us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to provide trusted advice and guidance for all financial and legal matters. We can help secure your family’s most valuable assets with robust legal protections to prevent fraud and scams of all kinds. Call us today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session to make the most empowered and informed decisions for yourself and the family members you love.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.