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Keeping Older Family Members Safe From Financial Exploitation

By Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Reviewed by Martie Gillen, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

This holiday season, many of us likely had a chance to reunite with older family members we hadn’t seen in a while. These visits are always valuable, not just for the emotional connection, but for the opportunity to see how family members are doing and to check in on their well-being. Hopefully, the news was good–but some of us may have noticed some decline in the physical or mental well-being of our loved ones. At times like these, we may worry about whether these older family members might be prone to financial exploitation due to declining health and abilities.

A Sad Cost

Unfortunately, every year, millions of older adults are swindled out of savings, property, and assets by predatory strangers, and, sadly, even family members.  Financial exploitation like this costs U.S. seniors an estimated three billion dollars annually and seriously threatens their health, safety and functioning.

Warning Signs

Is your elderly family member being exploited? According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, warning signs include dwindling finances, unexplained activity in bank accounts or on credit cards, or unauthorized changes in legal documents. In some cases, older adults may face threats if they don’t go along with the abuser’s financial arrangements or desires. Or, some may use the elderly person’s money or home for themselves without taking care of the older adult’s needs.

Prevention Tips

To prevent abuse, experts say it’s essential to work with trusted professionals, family members, and service providers to plan for the future of your family members. Consider hiring a money manager to handle finances if this becomes too difficult for the older person. Talk to an attorney to develop an estate plan for assets, a living will, and health care advance directives.

Also, remind your family member to be cautious! He or she should never give out personal information like a Social Security number, credit card numbers, or passwords over the phone. Go over the importance of never signing documents without understanding them, and warn him or her to be extremely wary of anyone who pressures them into making immediate financial decisions. Ensure that anyone working in the home has had a criminal background check.

If there is a problem, local law enforcement can help, or contact your area Adult Protective Services office. The Elder Care locator  (1-800-677-1116) also provides links to many useful resources across the nation. For more, visit Further Reading.

(Photo credit: Hand in hand by Garry Knight. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading:

National Center on Elder Abuse

StopFraud.gov–Learn how to protect yourself and others from common types of elder fraud

Protect Your Pocketbook: Tips to Avoid Financial Exploitation

Protect Yourself from Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation

References:

Administration on Aging. (n.d.).  Protect your pocketbook: Tips to avoid financial exploitation.  Retrieved from http://www.eldercare.gov/ELDERCARE.NET/Public/Resources/Brochures/docs/FinancialExploitationBrochure-508.pdf

Metlife. (2011). The Metlife study of elder financial abuse. Retrieved from https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/2011/mmi-elder-financial-abuse.pdf

National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Protect yourself from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.  University of California, Irvine. Retrieved from http://www.centeronelderabuse.org/docs/Protect_Yourself_From_Elder_Abuse.pdf 

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Smith, S. (2012). Preventing financial exploitation of the elderly. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)