Elder fraud and financial exploitation are probably more common than you think. It is estimated that about 1 in 15 older adults may experience these issues in their lifetime. The majority of financial exploitation cases are committed by a family member, including adult children, in-laws, and younger family members like grandchildren. Elder fraud and financial exploitation typically involve the illegal or improper use or withholding of an older person’s funds, assets, or property. Elder fraud and financial exploitation not only hurt older adults’ financial security and overall wellbeing, but also impacts their family and familial relationships. While this issue can be scary to think about, it is important to know what to look for and how to be proactive, so let’s look at a few points to consider.
Who is most at risk of elder fraud and financial exploitation? The Ohio Attorney General suggests the following may put someone at higher risk:
- Older adults who are socially isolated
- Older adults who rely on family members or friends to handle their finances
- Older adults who have recently lost a spouse or loved one, especially if that person handled the household finances
- Older adults who have a cognitive impairment, memory issues or other disabilities
What are the warning signs of elder fraud and financial exploitation? The Ohio Attorney General lists the following as potential warning signs:
- Unexplained withdrawals from your bank account, charges to your credit card or missing cash
- Calls regarding unpaid bills
- Requests to sign over your power of attorney or make changes to your will
- Requests to keep conversations or relationships a secret
- Requests to send money via wire transfer, gift card or prepaid money card
- Pressure to act immediately
- Guarantees to make money
- Attempts to isolate you from your family and friends
- Threats of harm, neglect, abandonment or removal from your home
What strategies can be used to help avoid elder fraud and financial exploitation? Marlene Stum, PhD from the University of Minnesota recently conducted a study on elder fraud and financial exploitation and suggests the following proactive steps:
Plan. This includes financial and health advance planning documents like power of attorney, health care directive, and will. Use legally recognized documents rather than informal family agreements and consider who you want managing your property and acting in your best interests on your behalf. Beware of selecting someone with a sense of entitlement or history of being irresponsible with money and beware of anyone bullying you to create or change your planning documents.
Communicate. Make conversations about these topics normal. Talk about money, wishes, documents, and expectations about use of your resources. Ensure everyone is involved, including the older parent, adult children, in-laws, and others across generations. Avoid secrets about money or property and talk about decision making roles and expectations involving money, resources, and caregiving. When more people are aware of your wishes, more accountability is possible.
Be involved. Be present in an older parent’s life and avoid letting physical or emotional distance keep you from knowing what is going on. Children often incorrectly make assumptions about an older parent’s health and decision-making capacity. If you are the older parent, keep in touch with others and stay active in your community. Avoid isolation!
Trust instincts. Listen, document, and take action if something does not seem right. It could be something that is said, a change in behavior, how a sibling is treating others, or any of the other warning signs previously listed. Speaking up, asking questions, and getting assistance can help stop the elder fraud and financial exploitation before more damage is done.
To learn more about common scams targeting older adults, strategies to avoid elder fraud and financial exploitation, and how to report elder fraud and financial exploitation, visit OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov and click on the Publications tab, then click on the Seniors tab.
Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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