The facts are sobering. Literally millions of our nation’s elderly are abused in some form or another each year. Included in that list of possible abuses is financial abuse or exploitation. It’s an all-too frequent occurrence and it leaves the elderly without a lifetime of hard-earned money. So, what is the profile of the victims and who are the perpetrators?
Many elderly require an extra level of care due to either physical or mental concerns. Some of these issues leave an elderly person limited in their mobility or in their cognitive abilities. Both conditions open a person to the opportunity for exploitation. But not only are those who have illnesses the victims. I hear from several of the elderly who deal with no illness or issue whatsoever yet they are still the target of many scams.
The common factors are that the elderly are perceived as having some level of wealth that has been saved over years of hard work. Additionally, criminals make the assumption that an elderly person is less tech savvy therefore less able to identify a scam or monitor their accounts. Perpetrators will create all kinds of legitimate sounding schemes to target that wealth and perceived lack of tech knowledge even if it means taking advantage of someone fighting illness. They will utilize fear tactics or, on the other hand, the sense of friendship and trust to get to their goal.
What is sad is that many times the one executing these abuses is the person providing the care and that person may be their own family. A caregiver is in the home of an elderly person and has the opportunity to look through records and places where someone may keep valuables. It would be easy to walk out with cash, jewelry or other keepsakes of value.
Additionally, over time, that caregiver will create a false sense of trust with their patient and the patient may reveal private information like account numbers, social security numbers, account balances, etc. The caregiver will develop so much trust that their patient may even randomly add the caregiver as a signer to their bank accounts, co-sign a loan, make a loan directly to the caregiver or outright give them cash. At that point, it would be easy to empty a bank account leaving the elderly in financial trouble.
The patterns of these abuses are recognizable but will require an extra level of due diligence by someone other than the caregiver. Here are some questions to consider:
*Are there any transactions in their accounts that are out of the ordinary? These may be payments on a loan that don’t belong to them, unusual wire transfers, online bill pay or other online transactions uncommon to the victim or extra check payments to individuals. The transactions may also be payments to receive lottery proceeds, winnings or long-lost inheritances.
*Does the caregiver accompany them into the bank? Do they give their patient instructions while they’re in the bank? Really, a caregiver should wait to the side out of earshot while their patient conducts their business.
*Are there any items missing from the home?
*Is the caregiver guarded about allowing others to visit their patient?
*Is medication missing? Are prescriptions being filled too often?
This is not an all-inclusive list so consider any behaviors or transactions that just don’t make sense. Any one of these may not be cause for concern but they would certainly present the opportunity for extra investigation.
The risk of this kind of abuse can be reduced with a few simple strategies.
*If family is not available, choose only professional in-home care where the caregivers are fully vetted. Consider the company’s ability to bond and insure their employees.
*If it is family, make sure that they are financially stable themselves thereby reducing the need or opportunity to take advantage of someone.
*Create some tactful accountability. If someone is the caregiver, someone else needs to help manage the patient’s financial affairs.
*Talk with a good family attorney or an attorney specializing in elder matters who can provide guidance about powers of attorney and other means to provide protections.
These conversations can be difficult if family is involved but the issues have to be addressed to protect the elderly. If financial abuse is suspected, take immediate action before more damage is done. Consider the local police. Also, the State of Tennessee’s Adult Protective Services can be reached at 1.888.277.8366 or you can visit their website at https://www.tn.gov/aging/learn-about/elder-abuse.html.
Frank Freels, Jr. is the senior vice president, security officer of Volunteer State Bank.