Elder abuse is recognized by experts as a public health crisis that crosses socio-economic borders. Financial abuse against seniors happens when con artists or thieves misuse money or other resources belonging to an elderly person. This abuse is a crime that robs senior adults of their financial means and eventually, their freedom. The predator could be a total stranger, trusted friend, or a family member who preys on the vulnerable. Unfortunately, this crime often goes unreported because the victims are too embarrassed to speak up or unable to speak for themselves.
Knowledge and prevention are key to help protect yourself or your loved one from becoming a victim of financial abuse. Here are a few things to look out for and ways to help protect yourself or a senior from this abuse.
Warning signs of financial abuse?
Spotting financial abuse is not always easy. Here are some warning signs to help you identify financial abuse.
There are unusual activities in your bank account such as unexplained and frequent withdrawals or insufficient funds.
Have you noticed that new accounts are being opened in your name without your permission?
You start receiving notices for unpaid bills.
The signature on checks looks suspicious. It has the payee's name, but it doesn't match their signature.
When someone is being abused, they may refuse to make eye contact or may be reluctant to talk about it. They also appear confused or scared when confronted about their finances.
You notice checks are written frequently for gifts or loans to the same people.
Have you noticed a new person helping them with their money management?
You notice bank or credit card statements are no longer being delivered to the home.
Take notice of a caretaker, relative, or friend who all of a sudden are making financial transactions on behalf of an older person, usually without proper documentation.
Ways to protect yourself.
Work with someone you trust to make sure all your assets are protected and to help with your estate planning.
Shred any documents with account information before you throw them away.
Secure your important documents such as your social security card, checkbook, and other sensitive information in a safe.
Don’t be pressured into making financial decisions. Before you do anything, make sure you have all the details before signing any paperwork or agreeing to anything. Ask for time to speak with your family or financial advisor.
If you suspect someone is trying to control your finances or is stealing from you, tell someone you trust or if necessary, contact your local police and report it.
Build a relationship with people at your financial institution. Once a relationship is developed and patterns are established, it becomes easy to detect suspicious activity on your accounts.
Whenever possible, use checks, credit cards, or debit cards to make your purchases. Paying this way leaves a paper trail that makes it easier to trace if you ever need to look back at your purchases or transactions.
Review your credit report often to ensure it's accurate. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting agency.
If you are a victim.
Quickly speak with someone you trust to seek help.
Call the credit reporting agencies and put a credit freeze on your credit report.
Contact your financial institution so they can take the necessary steps to help you.