In its simplest form, financial elder abuse involves taking money or property from an elderly person with the intent to defraud them. It is a growing problem in California given the state’s increasing senior population. The signs of financial elder abuse can be difficult to see. The following is a list of some of the signs associated with financial elder abuse. Though the presence of any of the signs is not absolute evidence of abuse, it should prompt further investigation.
• Elder is withdrawn.
• Elder is confused and tends to be more forgetful than usual.
• Elder seems depressed or angry.
• Senior appears more secretive than usual.
• Others keep the senior away from family members.
• Caregiver does not give the elder an opportunity to speak freely.
• There is unusual activity in the older person’s bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals.
• Bank statements and other financial reports no longer come to the elder’s home;
• Signatures on the elder’s financial documents do not match the elder’s signature.
• The elder’s important financial documents, such as checks, are signed even though the elder’s physical condition prevents writing.
• The senior lacks appropriate clothing or personal hygiene items.
• A stranger suddenly appears and offers the elder financial advice.
• There are unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue utilities.
• A caregiver who expresses unusual interest in the amount of money being spent on the older person.
Financial elder abuse can come in many forms including telemarketing fraud, predatory lending, and estate planning scams. Telemarketing fraud is the fraudulent sale of products and services over the phone. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, more than half of all of those targeted by telemarketers are over the age of 50. It may be difficult for the elder on the other end of the call to tell whether the call is a fraud, but everyone should be cautious about those calls that demand immediate payment for services not yet rendered. To avoid being duped by telemarketers, ask the caller for the name and address of their employer. Ask them to send you some written material. Whatever you do, DO NOT pay for anything over the phone. When in doubt, just hang up. The longer the conversation continues, the more easily the caller can convince the elder to give in and buy something.
Elders are also susceptible to the strong-arm tactics of predatory lenders who convince elders to take out high-interest loans. The elder is then unable to pay back the loan and can lose the collateral for the loan, which is usually the elder’s home. Lenders target elders who may be in financial straits and offer these loans as the solution to their problems. In reality, the fine print and boilerplate terms in the loan agreement almost always include hidden fees and balloon payments.
Estate planning schemes are other ways of taking advantage of the elderly. Suspicious estate planning documents, such as “Powers of attorney” can be devastating to a senior’s financial life. A person who obtains power of attorney over the affairs of an elder has the ability to withdraw unlimited sums of money from the elder’s bank account and can sign important financial documents on the elder’s behalf. Powers of attorney can be beneficial when the person appointed as attorney is in fact acting in the best interest of the elder, but when they are fraudulently obtained, they can wreak havoc on the elder’s finances.
Christopher C. Walton is a California elder abuse attorney whose practice is dedicated to issues involving elder abuse. If you believe somebody you know has been the victim of financial elder abuse, please call (866) 338-7079 for a free and confidential consultation.