No one wants to think about reaching a point in their life where they aren’t able to physically or mentally take care of themselves. But the seniors of today are living longer than ever before, and the painful truth is that all of us decline in one way or another as we age.
Unfortunately, many people either don’t realize or want to admit they aren’t as capable now as they were even a few years ago, and sometimes the signs aren’t obvious to friends and family members until something catastrophic happens. Most people rightly worry about physical dangers to their aging loved ones more than anything else, but there is another danger that far too few consider until it’s too late: elder financial abuse.
What exactly is elder financial abuse? At its most basic, it’s when people take advantage of seniors in order to trick them into giving them money. Only around 5 percent of Americans 65 and older say that they have had someone abuse their money, but experts believe this estimate is incredibly low. An elder law attorney with AARP says many victims many not even realize they have been scammed and others simply don’t admit to financial abuse because they are too embarrassed.
This seems to fit in with the response of people 40 to 64 who have been surveyed about elder financial abuse: 19 percent say that an older friend or family member has been victimized. That’s a huge jump up from when seniors are asked about financial abuse.
If those numbers aren’t enough for you, think about these: the average amount reported lost is $30,000, and more than one in ten say that they’ve been victimized for $100,000 or more. This isn’t small-time theft – our seniors are being robbed of their ability to financially care for themselves.
How People Steal Money from Our Seniors
There are a shockingly vast number of scams out there, and there’s no way to go into detail about every single one of them, especially since new ones pop up every day. But if you are worried about someone taking advantage of you or an older family member, watch out for these common scenarios.
Telemarketing and internet scams. There are countless scams that specifically target seniors and fool them into giving out credit card or bank information via a phone call or on the internet. With this knowledge, they are able to make unauthorized withdrawals and charges and leave elderly victims with the bill.
“Rock in a box.” This one sounds too crazy to be true, but sadly, it happens. A supposed salesperson will approach an elderly individual with a deal on a big-ticket item like a TV. They’ll have the item with them in a box that may be taped up suspiciously. Once the person has paid for the merchandise, the salesperson will quickly flee, and the senior will discover that they have literally purchased a heavy rock that has been well-padded inside the box.
Overcharging. These scammers convince seniors that they absolutely need certain services or goods and then charge them an exorbitant amount for them. The victims often don’t realize how much they’re paying because it will be hidden by an installment plan or interest due. Sadly, many times the people perpetuating these schemes are selling items that seniors truly may need, such as safety alerts and hearing aids, but doing so in a deceitful way.
“Sweetheart scams.” Someone will enter an elderly person’s life and pretend to care about them and convince the senior to alter bank accounts or property deeds so they are included on them. Once they’ve gotten what they came for, they disappear along with the property or funds.
Family or caretaker abuse. A shocking 52 percent of senior financial abuse victims say that a family member or caretaker was to blame. Sometimes these individuals may lie, threaten, or manipulate seniors to gain access to their funds. Other times the elderly person willingly and knowingly gives the individual financial power because they trust them, but the person abuses this trust by using the money or property for their own gain, leaving the senior without funds to care for him or herself.
How Seniors Can Protect Themselves
If you’re worried about someone taking advantage of you and stealing your money or you fear that this may happen to an older relative, there are steps you can take to keep assets safe.
- Never reveal personal financial information online or over the phone.
- Make sure that all of your important financial decisions are in writing to reduce confusion.
- Don’t make changes to your Will, Trust, or Power of Attorney without getting a second opinion.
- Work with a trusted third party professional (financial advisor, attorney, accountant) when filing taxes and filling out legal documents.
- Make sure that your accounts are being monitored for any activity that seems suspicious.
The best thing that you can do to protect your assets is to create a comprehensive plan that clearly details what you want and need and sets funds aside to ensure you are well taken care of no matter what happens.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011, 2012 and 2014 in Estate and Trust Litigation.