By: Susan Bruketta, Geriatric Care Manager & CEO, Home Care Assistance of New Mexico
Elder financial abuse is on the rise. Over the past five years I have received numerous calls from family, friends, and older adult worried about financial abuse. As a Geriatric care manager, I consider it my job to establish safety nets so that such abuse does not happen to any of our elderly clients through an Elder Abuse Prevention Program. Unfortunately, most of the financial abuse happens at the hands for family and friends. Albuquerque Home Care states that it all starts with educating the elderly and the public.
According to the Institute of Aging, elder financial abuse is “taking, secreting or appropriating money or property of an elder or dependent adult by a person who has the care or custody of, or who stands in a position of trust to, that elder or dependent adult.” An estimated $3 billion dollars are stolen from the elderly each year according to the National Council on Aging (the cases examined by the GAO involved over $5 million in theft from the victims), including misappropriation of funds, forgery of records, overcharging for nursing home/residential care facility services and falsely reporting therapeutic services for which payment could be rendered.
The elderly should be aware of family, friend and caregivers who show a high level of interest in their finances. It is important, however, to trust an honest and reliable family member with financial information in order to avoid any potential abuse at the hand of unscrupulous individuals. There are clear signs of financial abuse such as careless spending, frequent withdrawals of cash, purchasing unnecessary items, unpaid bills, or a “new best friend.”
Another major concern to the elderly is financial abuse committed by strangers using the Internet. Scammers are targeting the elderly through lottery and sweepstake offers, home improvement companies, identity theft, predatory lending and living trust mills. In one local case a man paid over 50k to a caller claiming to be his grandson stranded out of state. The clever con had his grandson’s name and personal details correct so the elderly man believed him when he asked that he not notify his parents of the loan out of embarrassment. When his daughter started to help her father pay his monthly bills, she was alerted to the thousands of dollars already charged to his credit card by the scam company. This particular victim had to eventually lease out his own home and move in with his daughter due to this significant financial loss. Here, as in many such cases, the abuse would have gone unreported without accidental intervention. Even when the abuse is discovered by the victim, many fail to report the abuse out of embarrassment, disbelief or denial.
To protect themselves from such abuse, older adults should follow a few basic rules. First, be wary of allowing strangers into your home as many con artists offer home repairs or other services to gain access. Second, remember that nothing is for free. Throw away sweepstake checks and never send money to receive a “free prize”. Obtain professional legal advice when making changes to a will or trust and never give your social security number or other personal information via email or website.
Persons who believe they or someone else may be a victim of elder financial abuse should contact their local Area Agency on Aging. Reporting such abuse is critical to the protection of all older adults.
If you want to know more about how to protect yourself from financial abuse or have any other questions, please feel free to give us a call. Home Care Assistance New Mexico takes great pride in protecting the quality and safety or our elderly client.