Elder abuse is not confined to physical abuse like nursing home neglect. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), it also includes "financial or material exploitation", which can take many forms but usually involves a scam of some kind designed to cheat seniors out of money or assets. If you have an elderly relative or loved one, you should know how to identify elder abuse like this and what you should do if you discover a scammer. The best defense against financial elder abuse is an alert and involved family, especially if your relative is prone to memory problems or confusion.
The most common financial scam that elders fall victim to is the phone scam. Generally, a person will call a senior and try to gain his or her trust in order to get money. The scammer might impersonate a member of the senior's family, claim that he or she has past due bills that need immediate payment or even try to sell fraudulent insurance policies. Other scams include home repair fraud and predatory lending. Some seniors may not realize they are being scammed, or may be too embarrassed to ask for help.
How to Identify Elder Abuse
If you have an elderly relative, it pays to be vigilant and cautious. Help your family member keep track of his or her finances, and be on the lookout for any suspicious activity. Specifically, keep an eye out for these signs of financial exploitation:
- Sudden changes in savings and checking accounts, especially large withdrawals by a caregiver or unknown institution
- Addition of other people to bank accounts
- Unauthorized withdrawals from debit accounts
- Unplanned changes to the elder's will or other documents
- Disappearance of valuables
- Payment for unnecessary services, like home repairs or pest control
- Reports of unpaid bills, especially those that are usually paid automatically
You should help your elderly relative with bills or finances, if possible, and explain to him or her about possible scams to prevent elder abuse. If your relative is suffering from memory problems, be sure to help him or her with money, and possibly make arrangements to have him or her stay with you. If you don't have time to be involved with all the financial matters your relative may be dealing with, some CPAs can help with monitoring accounts and paying bills. Above all, make sure you do your research, and check with your local Agency on Aging before hiring a caregiver or helper. If you suspect elder abuse, report it to Adult Protective Services and the National Council on Aging.