Elder Financial Abuse and the Burdens Associated With It
Our elderly loved ones deserve to live out the latter part of their lives in peace and security, not in fear, which makes elder abuse inexcusable. One of the fastest-growing forms of elder abuse in the country is elder financial abuse, in which someone either improperly or illegally takes or uses a senior’s money or property without their permission or without them even realizing it was taken. In most states, elder financial abuse is a crime, which means seniors and their families have many methods at their disposal to deal with a scammer who takes their money.
One such case of elder financial abuse occurred when a housekeeper financially abused one of her older clients. According to news reports, she was ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in restitution after stealing from her elderly patron over a two-year timespan. According to case documents, the man who hired the housekeeper said he granted her durable power of attorney so she could help him with going to the bank as well as other appointments whenever necessary. This plan unfortunately backfired when he realized she had made several unauthorized purchases in his name. Situations like this are becoming all too common as many elderly adults put their trust in the hands of caretakers or family members who do not have their best interests at heart.
It can also be very difficult to fight elder financial abuse, primarily because it often goes unreported. This is because many elderly victims often feel too confused, afraid, or embarrassed by what happened to tell anyone. A recent study puts the number of cases of elder financial abuse at as many as five million, but law enforcement generally only finds about one out of every 25 cases that occur.
Common Elder Financial Abuse Scams
The perpetrators of elder financial scams in Philadelphia may try anything; their conduct covers a very broad range. Some simply steal cash or property outright, while others get them to pay for goods and services without actually providing them. In some cases, fraudsters may even forge a signature on a legal document, such as a deed or a will.
The most common elder financial abuse scams in Pennsylvania include:
- Telemarketing fraud – This is the king of elder financial scams. The Department of Justice estimates that fraudulent telemarketers bilk American consumers out of about $40 billion each year, with the AARP claiming that 80 percent of victims are age 50 or older. Common phone scams include investment and credit card fraud, lottery scams, and identity theft, but telephone scammers also sell seniors goods and services that are either worthless junk or never arrive at all.
- Undue Influence – Many seniors are defrauded into parting with their homes or other property when a scammer entices them into signing contracts that are not in their best interest and/or which can saddle them with high fees. Many of these scammers use legal documents like powers of attorney or wills or deeds to gain access to property documents and then use lies, intimidation, or threats to the seniors in order to get them to transfer title.
- Unsolicited Home Repairs – Often, a team of scammers will go through neighborhoods containing a large number of older residents, or they will monitor the obituaries and death notices to find the most vulnerable victims and claim that they found something that needed to be fixed.
- Price gouging – Sometimes, fast-talking scammers work to convince seniors they need certain goods and services like a hearing aid or personal safety device and then have them sign some sort of convoluted contract in which they are overcharged a tremendous amount, often in the form of outrageous interest charges and installment payments.
Common signs of financial elder abuse can include:
- Bills not being paid on time – If a senior has ample financial resources to cover the costs of living and other various bills, but these bills are not paid on time, it could be a sign someone has taken control of their finances.
- Unusual account activity – If account activity shows something a senior is unable to do – like withdraw money from an ATM when they are bedridden – or shows items or services being purchased that they cannot use like a gym membership, it is possible someone else is spending the money.
- Changes in standard of care – When seniors are isolated from their families or begin to receive a lower standard of care, close scrutiny needs to be placed on their caretakers. Neglect and financial abuse often go together, so it’s crucial family members regularly visit and check in on their elderly loved ones.
- Changes to a will or signing over valuable assets – If a senior’s will or other legal documents concerning real property of power of attorney are suddenly signed over or changed, family members need to investigate the situation to ensure the decision was not influenced by caretakers or other people trying to take advantage of an older loved one.
- Belongings are missing or property has been sold – If any valuable assets like jewelry, antiques, and property are missing or have been sold, you need to have a private talk with your loved one.
If you are a senior or someone you love is a senior and you suspect either you or they have been the victim of a scam, the first thing you should do is call the police and report it. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to discuss the issue with anyone, because if you do nothing, you’re possibly making it worse because they won’t stop with you. If they’re successful at scamming one senior, they will move forward and scam some more.
You should also notify bank personnel and give them a heads up if you believe elder financial abuse has occurred. Quite often, bank employees are in a good position to spot suspicious activity, such as an uncharacteristically large withdrawal of money or the use of a debit or credit card and ATM by an elderly person who is supposedly housebound or in a nursing home. Federal law now requires financial institutions to file a Suspicious Activity Report with the appropriate agency when they suspect elder financial abuse.
If someone you love, your parent, grandparent, or another elderly relative, has been the victim of elder abuse, do not delay in contacting the Philadelphia elder abuse attorneys at Lopez McHugh LLP for help.