Battling elder financial abuse
ELDRED, NY — About $3 billion a year. That’s the estimate of the losses absorbed by older Americans as a result of financial abuse. Many experts believe the cost to be much higher because, statistically, 5% of Americans 60 and older experience financial mistreatment each year, yet less than 2% of cases of financial exploitation are reported.
These were some of the statistics provided by Rhonda Decker, senior vice president of Jeff Bank, at a seminar on elder financial abuse held at the Sunshine Hall Free Library in Eldred on February 1.
Elder financial abuse deprives an older person of their resources and possibly their independence.
Anyone who sees signs of theft, fraud, misuse of a person’s assets or credit, or use of undue influence to gain control of an older person’s money or property should take action. There are many signs that could indicate such abuse, including, but certainly not limited to: instances of unexplained withdrawals or transfers of funds; sudden instances of unpaid bills or a non-sufficient funds condition; checks with suspicious signatures; new influences in the elder’s life such a caregiver, relative or friend who begins conducting financial transactions for them; altered financial documents such as power of attorney or wills and trusts; and confusion, fear, embarrassment, or a lack of awareness of the problem.
There are several steps that can be taken if financial abuse is suspected. A victim should talk with a trusted family member, as well as to an attorney, doctor, or bank officer when appropriate. They should also contact the county Office of Aging and District Attorney’s office. Similar steps should be taken by a friend or family member of a suspected victim.
Sadly, a number of the attendees could attest personally to instances of financial abuse being perpetrated on members of their own family by other members of the family. Several of these instances occurred when the actions of a person who had power of attorney over the financial affairs of the elder person were not reviewed or questioned. Those whose loved ones were affected by this abuse not only endured the pain and inconvenience experienced by their loved ones, but were also harmed financially by a resulting decrease in inheritance or the assumption of financial responsibilities for which funds had previously been available.
In addition to abusers known to the victim, other perpetrators can include telephone and mail scammers, fraudulent debt collectors, financial advisers, internet scammers, home repair contractors and Medicare scam operators.
Decker stressed that despite the natural reaction of shame, a victim or the family member of suspected abuse must take action. She urged that people need to be proactive to protect themselves, engage trusted assistants and report abuse when suspected.