Financial exploitation of the elderly is a growing crime that involves the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets without their consent. The National Center for Elder Abuse estimates that financial abuse takes over $2.6 billion annually from older Americans. With the population of those age 65 and older projected to almost double current numbers by 2050, the problem of elder abuse is not likely to fade away soon.
Many older adults are more vulnerable to financial exploitation due to a variety of factors such as having a regular stable income, being socially isolated from others, or having a cognitive impairment or disability. In many instances, the person carrying out the abuse is often a trusted individual in the older adult’s life. The National Center for Elder Abuse estimates that nearly 90% of abusers are family members or trusted connections.
Protecting Yourself from Financial Exploitation
As an older adult, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself from financial exploitation.
- Avoid Check Fraud – The practice of “mailbox fishing” is on the rise across the country. Thieves use sticky rope to fish mail out of U.S. postal service mailboxes. They are able to clean any checks they find using a chemical solution and then fraudulently use them for their own purposes. Protect yourself by keeping your checks out of the mail. Most businesses and utility companies allow you to pay bills electronically through their websites. Additionally, many financial institutions offer online bill pay to customers through their mobile banking sites. Through bill pay, you can set up automatic monthly payments for fixed expenses like auto and mortgage loans and you can easily pay fluctuating utility bills each month with a few quick clicks.
- Do Your Research- Many scammers prey on the trusting nature of older adults. Before sending money to any charity, individual, or business, research the recipient to ensure that they are legitimate. Use a search engine like Google or Bing to look up the organization’s website rather than relying on a potentially false web address that the person gives you. Call the phone numbers that are listed on the website to verify that the organization truly exists.
- Guard Your Information - Be very cautious about who has your personal information. Remember that no financial institution or government agency will ever contact you by phone or email and request that you provide confidential information such as your social security or bank account numbers. Also, think carefully before selecting a Power of Attorney to manage your finances. Make sure the person you select is one you can trust to make good decisions on your behalf in the event that you become unable to care for yourself. Take time to talk over your wishes with the individual so that he or she knows how you want your financial needs handled as you age.
What to Do in the Case of Financial Abuse and Exploitation?Unfortunately, financial exploitation of the elderly often goes disregarded and unreported. Elderly victims often feel ashamed once the realize that they have been scammed and choose not to report the abuse. In other situations, the victim may fear retaliation from the abuser, especially in situations in which the victim relies on the daily care and support of the abuser.
In 2016, lawmakers in Alabama passed the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation Act which requires “qualified individuals” such as investment advisors and brokers to report instances of suspected financial exploitation to the Alabama Securities Commission. Additionally Alabama’s Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act, categorized financial exploitation offenses against persons ages 60 and over.
If you suspect that you or a loved one have been the victim of financial exploitation, contact your local Adult Protective Services office which can be located through eldercare.gov or by calling 1-800-677-1116. To report cases of identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338. If your loss involves a financial institution or creditor, report the problem immediately to the financial institution or creditor.