Protecting Against Elder Financial Abuse During COVID-19
Elder financial abuse is rising problem in the United States. While thousands of seniors are affected, approximately only one in 44 cases is ever actually reported to the authorities. Unfortunately, coronavirus has created the perfect opportunity for scammers to take advantage of vulnerable adults. Millions of dollars have already been lost to fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why Is Elder Financial Abuse So Common?
The elderly population is the main target of financial abuse because these individuals are more likely to have savings, investments, pensions, and property. They may be attracted to high-return, low-risk investment offers because they want to maximize their investments for retirement or desire to leave more money behind for family members when they die. However, these offers are often too good to be true.
AARP reports that the average victim of elder financial abuse loses around $120,000. Some people are too embarrassed to report the abuse, so they just lose out on the money. Others hold on to false hope that the abuser will return their money, especially if they’ve been taken advantage of by a family member, close friend, or trusted caregiver.
How to Recognize Elder Financial Abuse
Elder financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse, but it isn’t always obvious unless you know how to recognize the signs. In many cases, abusers will offer to help with managing an elder’s accounts to gain access to their funds. Some other common examples of elder financial exploitation include:
- Theft: The abuser may steal bank information, credit cards, cash, or valuable possessions from the victim. Alternatively, they may take advantage of the elder’s giving nature and outright ask to “borrow” large sums of money repeatedly with no intention of ever paying it back.
- Scams: Abusers will try to engage the victim in a “low risk” investment or retirement scheme. They may attempt these types of scams in person or over the phone, asking the individual to make large purchases without providing a paper trail of what the money was spent on.
- Extortion: Someone may pressure or threaten an elder to give them money in exchange for favors or caregiving tasks. They may attempt to get the senior to change their will and/or power of attorney.
Where financial exploitation is concerned, the abuser is often a family member, friend, caregiver, or someone else the older adult trusts. This often makes it difficult for them to come forward to get help.
Common Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
Financial abuse often occurs over time rather than being a single event, which can make it hard to identify and investigate. Some warning signs of elder financial abuse include:
- Sudden inability to pay the mortgage, utilities, and other bills
- Unusually large financial transactions
- Abrupt change in living arrangements
- Being unable to purchase essentials like groceries, prescriptions, or clothes
- Unexplained disappearance of valuable possessions
How to Protect Against Financial Abuse During COVID-19
The CDC recommends social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19, which means people are spending more time at home and less time visiting their elderly loved ones. Perpetrators are taking advantage of this fact to scam the elderly out of their hard-earned money. If you are worried that your loved one is at a high risk of being financially exploited, here are some of the things that you can do to protect them during the pandemic.
First, remember that social distancing is not the same as social isolation. Social isolation will only increase an older adult’s risk of being subjected to financial abuse. It’s best to keep the elderly people in your life socially and mentally engaged. Here are some things you can do to help:
- Warn them about COVID-19 scams and frauds. Make them aware of the red flags of fraud and the various tactics used by scammers. Encourage them to ask you questions before making a large purchase or an important financial decision.
- Check on them regularly. Communicate with them daily and visit as often as you can to let them know that you are there for them. If there are other family members, ask those people to call or visit their elderly loved one as well. An older adult with involved family members is less likely to be exposed to elder abuse.
- Encourage setting up a financial power of attorney. As people grow older, they often lose the mental capacity to handle their own financial matters. Don’t be afraid to talk to your loved one about their assets and what their wishes are regarding them. Having them establish a financial power of attorney, along with a will or trust, will help ensure that their assets are protected.
Share Tips on Preventing Financial Elder Abuse
There are some easy things your senior loved one can do on their own to help prevent financial exploitation. Be sure to share the following tips:
- Keep personal documents secure in a safe.
- Never share their social security number or passwords with a stranger.
- Shred statements and bills that identify personal information.
- Never sign a financial contract without having a lawyer review it first.
- Verify any organization that’s asking for large donations.
- Get background checks for anyone working in their home.
How to Report Elder Abuse
When you suspect that your loved one has been financially exploited, the first thing that you should do is to contact your county’s Adult Protective Services office to investigate the abuse. You can also make a report with a local law enforcement agency. In cases where financial elder abuse is hard to prove, it’s a good idea to involve an attorney as soon as possible to help you put a stop to the abuse and potentially recover damages.
Don’t Wait to Address Financial Elder Abuse
The coronavirus pandemic has left millions of older adults vulnerable. If your loved one has been harmed financially, don’t hesitate to contact the Law Office of Kyle W. Jones today.
Contact us today to find out more about our services and how we can help you.