Did you know that senior citizens are increasingly becoming prey to financial abuse? Unfortunately, there are up to five million American seniors that are abused each year. Out of that number, $36.5 billion have been lost in terms of finances by these victims of financial abuse. This type of abuse can take many different forms, including deception, fraud, or theft. Sadly, many seniors do not even realize they’re being taken advantage of until it’s too late. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the signs of financial abuse and protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Financial abuse of seniors is a serious problem, but there are things you can do to protect yourself. We’re going to discuss what financial abuse is, how to identify it, and some steps you can take to protect yourself.
What Is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse of seniors is when someone illegally or improperly uses a senior citizen’s money or other assets. In most cases, the abuser is someone who the senior trusts, such as a family member, caregiver, friend, or even a financial advisor. The abuser may use deception, coercion, or force to get the senior to part with their money.
There are many different ways that financial abuse can happen which is why it can be difficult to stop at times especially if the senior affected hasn’t voiced any concerns to anyone or if they aren’t able to pinpoint this type of danger on their own. It could be something as simple as someone convincing a senior to sign over their power of attorney so that they can access their bank accounts. Or it could be more serious, like someone stealing a senior’s credit card information and going on a spending spree.
Financial abuse can also happen when someone pressures a senior into making a financial investment that they don’t really understand. While you may think that these types of cases don’t happen all that often, however, if you’re a senior in Florida you should still remain aware. There are at least 5% of seniors that experience some type of scam in a given year.
Whatever the case may be, financial abuse is a serious problem that can have a devastating effect on seniors. This is especially true given that most cases of senior financial abuse go unreported. Sadly, there are only one in every 44 cases of financial elder abuse that’s documented. The unfortunate thing with this is that financial abuse is one of the most difficult forms of elder abuse to prove due to limited chances of witnesses or the victim not being able to recognize or recall the signs that could build a case. This is why it’s important to recognize the signs.
Signs of Financial Abuse
There are some common signs that may indicate that a senior is being financially abused. If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to take action and get help right away.
Sudden Changes in Bank Account or Credit Card Activity
This could include unexplained withdrawals, transfers, or charges. It could also mean that bills go unpaid even though there should be enough money to cover them. A good way to combat this is to use a banking system with specific safeguards that alert you when you have spent money or that will temporarily lock your accounts until you approve suspicious purchases.
Something Is Missing
Not having enough money to cover basic expenses one day when they did on another day is another sign to pay attention to. Gaps in funds that they may have had last week with no activity being done to spend any of that money should raise a red flag.
If a senior suddenly can’t afford groceries, medication, or other essentials, but they usually can, it could be a sign that someone is misusing their money. This also doesn’t have to only be money, this could be valuables of any kind, or sensitive information missing from their usual places.
Changes in Living Arrangements
If a senior is suddenly forced to move out of their home or into a nursing home, it could be a sign that someone is trying to get access to their assets. This is something to pay close attention to.
Unusual Activity With Respect to Property
This could include someone transferring ownership of a senior’s home without them knowing, or taking out a loan using the senior’s home as collateral.
Withdrawing From Friends and Activities
If a senior suddenly becomes isolated and stops participating in activities they used to enjoy, it could be a sign that they’re being abused. Always pay attention to patterns and general behavior.
These are just some of the more common signs of financial abuse. If you notice any of these things, it’s important to take action by speaking to someone within law enforcement and the seniors’ family or care team if they have one.
How to Protect Yourself from Financial Abuse
There are some steps you can take to protect yourself from financial abuse.
First, make sure you have a solid understanding of your finances and know where all your money is going and where it’s being held. Don’t allow anyone access to your accounts, passwords, or any other sensitive information unless you fully trust them. This will help you spot any unusual activity. Also, be careful about signing over power of attorney, as this gives someone else complete control over your finances.
You always want to make sure that you are being wary of anyone who pressures you into making a financial decision or investment. Make sure you understand what you’re getting into before you make any decisions. If you are being asked or pressured into doing something like this, report it immediately and withhold assistance. For example, a grandchild that might need money for a summer trip is different from a distant relative trying to talk older family members into business opportunities that require start-up capital.
Additionally, always keep communication open with your family, friends, and even your neighbors if you have them. If someone is isolating you from your loved ones, it could be a sign that they’re trying to control you financially. Speak up if you have noticed anyone doing or attempting to do this to you.
Finally, if you suspect that you’re being financially abused, reach out for help. There are many organizations that can help seniors who are being abused.
Organizations That Can Help
If you think you’re a victim of financial abuse, there are many organizations that can help. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is one of those resources and the organization provides resources and information for seniors who have been victims of financial abuse. You can also submit claims directly on their website.
Another good resource is The National Center on Elder Abuse which is another great resource hub but you should keep in mind that the NCEA is not an investigative agency meaning they can’t get directly involved in cases of elder abuse. So, you should still report incidents by reporting them to the proper authorities where the victim lives.
If you or someone you know is a victim of financial abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are many organizations that can assist seniors who are being abused. While elder financial abuse often goes unreported, we can all stay vigilant and do our best to protect seniors living in Florida, and beyond. Remember, you are not alone and there is always help available.