Could You Or Someone You Know Be A Victim Of Elder Abuse?
Financial crimes against the elderly are nothing new. Older people are often targeted by children, close family, friends and scam artists of various types. The elderly are also vulnerable to cyber-crime, hacking and identity theft. I believe it is important to warn my readers to be aware of crimes against the elderly and convey this on to people who could be targets.
A recent article I came across in the New York Times by Constance Gustke also highlights this topic. The article starts out with a story about an 84-year old woman, Maria, who was approached by a longtime friend, a younger woman, for a $500,000 loan to help get her boyfriend back on his feet. Maria decided to help because she had lent money to her young friend before and it had always been paid back. Without consulting a professional, she handed over $500,000 but never got back a cent even after a judgment against the couple!
Maria now deeply regrets her generosity. At 84, she’s lost her retirement nest egg and lives near the edge of poverty. Thankfully, Maria owns her home and receives social security so she will do okay, but that’s no consolation!
Maria says she treated this “friend” like a daughter. The friend, meanwhile, won her trust and said she’d always be there to take care of Maria and then, sadly, sold her out.
It’s a sad story but what’s even sadder is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Financial crimes against elders take a toll on their lives and pocketbooks every day. Sadly, trusted caregivers children, friends, and relatives are often most at fault.
Older adults are vulnerable targets because they usually have a fair amount of money saved, are typically debt-free, and own their homes. As old age takes a toll on memory loss, weakened motor skills such as the inability to sign checks after a stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc., the elderly become increasingly incapable of protecting themselves against fraud and unwittingly become easy targets from people they’d never suspect—trusted friends, close family members, or caretakers who get greedy, especially when they know the elder has no recourse to anyone else for day-to-day survival.
Elderly abuse has no boundaries. It happens across social strata. For example, in a recent high profile case, millionaire socialite Brooke Astor was robbed by her son, Anthony Marshall, of tens of millions of dollars after getting power of attorney over his mother’s assets.
In another prominent case, noted actor Mickey Rooney was robbed by his stepson, who began draining millions from Mickey’s accounts after purchasing hydrocodone without a prescription, receiving power of attorney, and leaving the actor broke and in debt when he died. In testimony to Congress before he died, Mr. Rooney urged abused elderly people to not stay silent as he had.
Track Your Money And Assets At All Times And Don’t Let your Caretaker Get The Feeling They Aren’t Being Watched
Track your money and assets at all times and don’t let your caretaker get the feeling they aren’t being watched.
Financial crimes experts also urge victims to speak out and contact a lawyer or their state’s Adult Protective Services agency (Florida’s APS can be found here) if they are victims of abuse or deception. They say these crimes often start small with thefts of small items like jewelry and blank checks but increase over time if the smaller crimes go undetected. Track your money and assets at all times and don’t let your caretaker get the feeling they aren’t being watched.
Often, when financial abuse happens, the defrauded person is afraid of looking foolish or causing anguish in the family. Caregivers often threaten or emotionally blackmail elders against calling the cops.
Watch For Red Flags
I think it’s time elders took the lead in combating this evil, first with prevention. Watch for red flags signaling financial abuse such as changes in bank accounts, unexplained withdrawals, or altered legal documents. Also, watch for caregivers who want to isolate you from others to make it easier for them to commit fraud.
It’s also important to be upfront with your caregiver and let him or her know that you want a second, unrelated, unbiased person monitoring your assets. Have another person (perhaps an accountant or financial advisor unrelated to your caregiver) monitor bank statements and canceled checks for signs of abuse. Make caregivers aware that they are being audited. Consider appointing co-trustees for irrevocable trusts that hold assets, co-agents under a power of attorney, or a guardian or conservator.
Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up
Next, make noise at the first signs of fraud. If abuse happens, call your attorney or financial advisor, alert the cops, don’t be afraid to set an example! Typically, the first attempt at fraud is small, so by raising an alarm early, you’re warning the perpetrator. Alerting the authorities will protect you against greater fraud and abuse down the road.
Let’s individually and collectively do all we can to stop elder abuse. As for Maria, she is much less trusting than before. Her motto now is, “God, please protect me from my friends.” While it’s a shame that it has come to this, let her loss be a lesson for us all.
If you or someone you know is a victim of elder abuse, report it today.
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Source: New York Times