Ben Franklin portrait with a bruised eye

How to cope with the fastest growing form of senior abuse.

As our population of seniors grows, so does the ugly problem of financial abuse against elders. This is a problem close to our hearts and one we intend to vigorously fight.

It’s tough to combat, partly because it often goes unreported. One recent study reported by Consumers Digest estimated that there are at least 5 million cases of this financial abuse in the United States each year, but law enforcement or government officials learn about only 1 in 25 cases.

You can protect yourself or your loved ones by becoming familiar with the most common scams and what to do if you suspect a crime.

Telemarketing or Mail Fraud

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that crooked telemarketers rake in an estimated $40 billion each year, scamming one in six American consumers. And the sad part is that, as the AARP estimates, 80% of them are 50 or older. Watch out for investment and credit card fraud, lottery scams, and especially identity theft. Another common sham is to sell goods to seniors that never arrive or are utterly worthless.

Unauthorized Access to Funds

Called “Sweetheart Scams,” supposed love interests woo seniors, convincing them that adoration and concern are the reason they be included on bank and credit accounts and property deeds.

Excess Charges

Preying on those most in need, the scammer “sells” products that are essential to a senior’s quality of life, such as hearing aids. The victim is ridiculously overcharged, with the excess monies often being hidden in elaborate interest plans and installment payments.

Fraudulent Legal Documents

Portraying themselves as legal authorities, scammers procure power of attorney or other legal documents to get access to the senior’s funds or property.

This list is just the beginning. Other scams include fake injuries, false prizes, unsolicited repair work, and sad to say, various crimes involving trusted but unscrupulous family members.

What are the indicators?

The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse has put together this list of clues that financial abuse has occurred:

  • Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue utilities
  • Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts that the older person cannot explain
  • Bank statements and cancelled checks no longer come to the elder’s home
  • New “best friends”
  • Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the older person didn’t understand at the time he or she signed them
  • Unusual activity in the older person’s bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals
  • The care of the elder is not commensurate with the size of his/her estate
  • A caregiver expresses excessive interest in the amount of money being spent on the older person
  • Belongings or property are missing
  • Suspicious signatures on checks or other documents
  • Absence of documentation about financial arrangements
  • Implausible explanations given about the elderly person’s finances by the elder or the caregiver
  • The elder is unaware of or does not understand financial arrangements have been made

If you suspect financial abuse of an elderly person, you can contact Adult Protective Services, local law enforcement, or the senior’s financial institution. It’s important you seek help as fast as possible.