Starting in March, Social Security will require that all beneficiaries receive their payments electronically. As I was explaining this major change to some apprehensive seniors, I was reminded of how intimidating financial matters can be for them, and how vulnerable some of them are to scams.
Elder financial abuse has many faces. It might come in the form of a stranger pushing a “confidence game” where he earns the victim’s trust, a caregiver charging an exorbitant rate for her services, or a family member who has a sense of entitlement to the victim’s money.
In one such case I was working with a man who had made it to 101 years of age. Having lived through the Great Depression, this was a man who stayed frugal despite the success he achieved throughout his career. That’s why I became uneasy when I noticed a series of suspicious checks made out to cash and endorsed by a local gas station.
It turns out his home caregiver had gained his confidence and was able to convince him to sign those checks, to the sum of $16,000 in one month. This wasn’t just unfortunate, it was totally preventable; if I had been given access to his accounts, I would have been able to put a stop to those checks before the situation got out of hand. After the fact, I was only able to help my client pick up the pieces, which meant playing a supervisory role in his finances, firing the caregiver and calling the police. Unfortunately, this con artist knew what she was doing – since my client’s signature was not forged, there was nothing the police could do.
To help make sure someone you love doesn’t fall victim to a similar elder financial abuse scam, keep a lookout for the following warning signs:
- The appearance of a new “best friend”
- An overreaching caregiver – for example, one that opens the senior’s mail
- Bank statements no longer come to the senior’s address
- Unusual checks or credit card charges
- Medications go missing
- The appearance of new electronics that might be used by caregivers, such as a large flat screen television or a new laptop
You can also increase the chance of nipping elder financial abuse in the bud by recognizing what makes a senior vulnerable:
- Physical or mental handicaps that might impair his or her ability to stop financial abuse
- Having a family member with a drug or gambling addiction
- Being unaware of their assets
- Isolation and loneliness
- Being intimidated by technology, especially as it relates to finances
It’s up to us to make sure our loved ones have the support they need in order to prevent financial abuse. As a financial concierge, not only do I pay bills and balance checkbooks, I also look out for the general well-being of my clients – whether that means stopping elder financial abuse or scheduling routine visits to the doctor.
Do you suspect a loved one might be the victim of elder financial abuse?
Judy Heft, Principal, Judy Heft & Associates is a professional and personal financial organizer with offices in Greenwich and Stamford. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 203-978-1858.