Don’t Touch My Money: Financial Elder Abuse

financial elder abuse

Financial elder abuse is when an older adult is financially exploited by a stranger. It’s even worse when it’s someone they know, like a family member or caregiver. Financial elder abuse crosses all social, educational, and economic boundaries.

My mom’s phone rang one fall morning.

“Grandma?” asked the male voice on the other end.

“Mark?” Mom asked. Since our son’s death, the only man to call her Grandma was Bobby’s best friend, Mark.

“Yeah. I’m in trouble.”

“What’s wrong?”

The young man explained that he’d been in a traffic accident and was in jail. He needed to have money wired to him via Western Union.

“What about your folks?”

“Oh, no, I can’t ask them right now. They’d be really upset.”

My mom explained that she’d need to get a ride to the nearest Western Union, since she no longer drove.

Thank goodness she called me immediately. I told her that Mark would never ask her to wire money, regardless of the reason. He’d go to his parents before anyone else. I reminded her that scam artists prey on vulnerable seniors like herself.

Thirty minutes later, the bold con artist called back.

“Have you wired the money yet, Grandma?”

Mom answered, “Sorry, no. You’re going to have to stay in jail.”

The person at the other end called her a name, then hung up. I’m glad my mom called me before following through with wiring any money.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 500,000 seniors are the victims of elder financial abuse every year. The number could actually be higher, since many elders don’t report being victimized. They’re embarrassed and ashamed.

I read a story about a son who took advantage of his mother’s trust. He conspired with the family’s “trusted” financial advisor to move his mother’s investments, and then took out a loan against them. The transaction garnered a huge commission for the broker and provided funds the son needed to start a business. But the son had no intention of paying back the loan.

If your parents are still living independently, make sure you review common scams with them. Also be alert to signs of possible financial exploitation, such as:

  • Terminating vital utilities such as telephone, water, electricity / gas, or garbage
  • Not paying bills and liabilities despite adequate income
  • Surrendering oversight of finances to others without explanation or consent
  • Transferring assets to new “friends” assisting with finances
  • Writing checks to “Cash”
  • Not understanding his/her current finances, and offering improbable explanations
  • Unexplained disappearance of cash, valuable objects, financial statements
  • Not being able to explain unauthorized changes to wills or other estate documents
  • Giving away money or spending promiscuously
  • Receiving property liens or foreclosure notices

As a caregiver, it’s imperative to watch for potential scams perpetrated on older adults. Be especially aware if your loved one shows signs of memory loss and can’t handle his finances. Alert your parents’ bank. Ask that a fraud memo be placed on their accounts and require a password before giving any information over the phone. If you think your loved one has been taken advantage of, call your local police department. Then call the three credit reporting agencies and place a freeze on his credit report.*

It can be uncomfortable to discuss financial matters with your aging loved one. It isn’t usually high on our list of fun things to do. Broach the subject with humility. Be prepared for some push-back. Above all, pray before every financial discussion.

*The three credit reporting agencies are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. This link will give you their contact information.

financial elder abuse

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