Seniors lose billions a year because of the problem -- and it's only getting worse.
epidemic proportions. Seniors in the U.S. lose about $36.5 billion
per year to various types of financial abuse. Too often, scam artists,
financial advisers, caregivers and even relatives take advantage of
elderly victims’ cognitive decline or memory loss to exploit them
Luckily, many of these cases can be prevented with smart
steps on the part of both seniors and their loved ones. While talking
money with your aging parents isn’t easy, your vigilance can help
protect them from falling victim to this increasingly common crime.
Simply being a regular presence in your parents’ lives can
go a long way toward safeguarding them from financial exploitation. It’s
far easier to detect signs of financial abuse firsthand. So if you live
close enough, visit often – it’ll give you a chance to gauge how
they’re doing physically, emotionally and financially. Unpaid bills,
excessive spending, or other changes in behavior can all be red flags.
A sad truth is that financial abuse often goes hand-in-hand with physical or emotional abuse.
“It’s really rare that all that’s happening is financial
abuse,” said Elizabeth Loewy, former chief of the Elder Abuse Unit in
the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, who oversaw thousands of elder
abuse cases there.
Pay attention to any physical or behavioral changes your
parents exhibit. Weight loss, weight gain, sudden anger, a withdrawn
demeanor or secrecy about finances can all be signs that abuse is
occurring, said Crista Chelemedos, Executive Director of Senior Advocacy Services, a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit that supports seniors’ rights and access to health care and other services.
If you live too far away for frequent in-person visits, make
time for regular phone or video calls.
Even better – have a trusted
person who lives near your parents check on them and report back to you.
Have difficult conversations
Ensuring that your parents’ financial wishes are documented
before dementia or other cognitive issues arise is perhaps the most
crucial step toward preventing financial abuse.
That means having tough conversations early and often. Research
from Allianz Life reveals that seniors who talk about their finances
with a relative, friend or trusted professional are far likelier to take
measures to protect themselves from financial abuse.
“The challenge is that as your parents begin to age, you
don’t just get to roll in and say, ‘you’re not handling your money
anymore,’” Chelemedos said.
“This is an ongoing conversation you need to have,” she said.
Many adult children worry about infantilizing their parents
or appearing too intrusive by discussing their finances – but they
shouldn’t, Loewy said. She recalled numerous elder abuse cases that
could have been averted if the victim’s children had discussed their
parent’s future wishes and helped them get their documents in order.
Ask who your parents’ current doctors and lawyers are,
whether they have a power of attorney, an estate plan and other
financial documents, Loewy advised.
Carefully Vet Professional Caregivers
While the rate of elder financial abuse by caregivers is a relatively small piece
of the overall pie, these professionals are in a unique position to
perpetrate the crime. Loewy noted that there are “bad apples
everywhere,” and there’s no guarantee that the person hired to care for
your parent will be one of the good ones.
Still, there are a number of things you can do to help
prevent abuse by hired caregivers. For in-home caregivers, it’s
generally best to go through a licensed agency that conducts criminal
background checks. Ask them about the screening process they use.
Services like Caring.com or Medicare’s Home Health Compare
tool allow you to browse consumer reviews of different home health
agencies. Referrals from people you know and trust are also highly
Checking in with your parent after they’ve hired an in-home
caregiver is key to preventing any exploitation by this individual. That
means “physically being around or having a loved one who can check in
without letting the caregiver know you’re checking in,” Loewy said.
Equally crucial is ensuring your parent isn’t sharing
financial information with their caregiver.
Checks, debit and credit
cards and any documents with personal information shouldn’t be easily
accessible. While it may be convenient for a senior to hand a caregiver a
debit card for groceries or other errands, this is where financial
abuse by hired caregivers often starts.
Turn to technology
While the Internet can be a channel to perpetrate scams
(from phishing scams to emails from alleged foreign princes) it also
offers tools to help guard against financial abuse.
“Technology is absolutely the key for monitoring what’s
going on, especially from far away,” said Loewy, who now serves as
general counsel and senior vice president for industry relations at EverSafe, a financial monitoring service designed for older adults.
For a monthly fee, EverSafe scans all of a user’s financial
accounts daily for suspicious activity based on the account history.
(Unlike with most banks, “suspicious activity” in this case could be
something as seemingly minor as ordering a new debit card).
Other online tools designed to help users keep track of
their money, credit and identity include apps such as BillGuard, which
links monitors credit and debit card accounts for any strange activity.
Full Article & Source:
4 Ways to Protect Your Aging Parents From Financial Abuse