Elderly financial abuse can take on many forms, including stealing assets, forging signatures to obtain new lines of credit and loans, and fraudulently using existing credit cards. Such cases are on the rise: According to the 2011 MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse, victims lose an estimated $2.9 billion dollars annually, up 12 percent from $2.6 billion in 2008. While strangers are responsible for 51 percent of the crimes, 34 percent are committed by family members, friends and neighbors.
Not everyone deep into their retirement years is suseptible to elderly financial abuse, but the MetLife study found that women are twice as likely as men to be victims. Additionally, most are between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone and require some level of home or health care assistance.
In fact, an overblown sense of deserving is a common reason for elderly fraud. And it's done by the person you'd least expect, says Maisano. "I have had very normal-looking adult children stand up and say: 'My parent's money is my money. Whether they are alive or dead, it's my money.'" They feel the parent is living too long, and assumed they would have the funds already, so they take it any way they can.
The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog association, offers some clues to when elderly financial abuse might be occurring, including:
- Bills are left unpaid and notices of eviction or discontinued utilities arrive.
- Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts.
- Bank statements stop coming.
- Care is not commensurate with the size of the estate.
- Belongings or property goes missing.
- Suspicious signatures appear on checks or other documents.
- The elder or the caregiver gives implausible explanations about financial matters.
If you're a senior citizen and others are privy to your finances, King recommends involving a neutral third-party into your routine -- especially if someone is living with you and assuming such tasks as grocery shopping and paying the rent. With access comes temptation. Consider hiring a member of the American Association of Daily Money Managers to monitor bank account and credit activity, as these professionals can quickly detect problems.
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