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  4.  » Protecting Older Adults from Financial Abuse: Recognizing and Preventing Financial Exploitation

When people think of elder abuse, they may think of scars, bruises, and bedsores they receive due to negligent nursing home staff. However, not every wound is physical.

Elder financial abuse is a common and devastating reality for seniors living both independently and in nursing home or assisted living facilities. Today, it’s estimated that people 50+ years old control more than 70 percent of the country’s wealth. This ample wealth means criminals are finding new tactics to take advantage of retiring baby boomers and the increasing number of elderly Americans. 

Below, we explain elder financial exploitation in detail, including facts and statistics, signs to be aware of, what to do if your loved one has been abused, and how a personal injury attorney could help your family seek justice.

Facts About Financial Elder Abuse

Many older adults fall victim to financial elder abuse. According to a recent report, approximately 1 in 18 seniors get scammed every year, resulting in nearly $36 billion in personal losses. Sadly, however, the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) believes that only 1 in 44 cases of elder financial abuse is reported, which means statistics and total losses are likely underestimated. A senior living with a child who is unemployed or suffers from substance abuse has a greater risk of experiencing financial abuse.

What Constitutes Elder Financial Abuse?

Elder financial abuse can take different forms, but it always involves a fraudster targeting a senior in order to use the elderly person’s financial resources to their advantage. Family members, neighbors, caretakers, and nursing home or assisted living facility staff are all roles in which a person may have greater access to a senior’s financial resources. Here are some examples of what financial exploitation of an elderly person looks like:

Identity theft (or stealing a senior’s name, social security number, and address either online, from the mail, or from medical records) is a common way criminals use a senior’s financial resources to their advantage, taking out credit cards or loans in their name. Seniors are also susceptible to debit and credit cards or checks being used without their knowledge; their wallet may be easy to access for multiple people, including health aides and care staff or family members. Additionally, lottery scams and telemarketing or internet scams are another popular way criminals seek to take advantage of a senior. Often run as large-scale scams targeting thousands of seniors, criminals pretend to be someone else (like a trusted family member or a bank representative) when they contact the elderly individual. The criminal gives them a false sense of security and lies about the purpose of the money, often successfully persuading them to send them a money order, hand over their credit card information, and more. 

Finally, many people wonder, “does financial exploitation includes misuse of power of attorney?” The answer is yes. “Power of attorney” allows someone to make financial and legal decisions for another person in the event they can’t do so for themselves (in this case, a senior who may be incapacitated mentally or physically). Those selected to hold a power of attorney are expected to act in the best interest of those they represent, but this isn’t always the case. Some people abuse their power of attorney and steal money from the senior they are meant to protect. 

Why Criminals Target Seniors

Seniors are easy targets for those looking to steal because of their greater wealth and diminished physical or mental capabilities. Households of those aged 65-74 have the highest average net worth in America, topping just over $1.2 million. This greater financial status is a fact well known to criminals. In addition, many seniors suffer from either physical conditions or mental conditions that increase their vulnerability. Some cannot physically prevent someone from taking their wallet or suffer from poor vision or hearing. In addition, 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s or dementia, conditions which greatly inhibit their cognitive abilities. To criminals, these conditions are tempting opportunities for financial exploitation.

Know the Signs of Elderly Financial Abuse

Staying informed and involved with your parent or elderly loved one’s life is the best way to detect and prevent senior financial abuse. Stay alert for the following signs of elder financial exploitation, as outlined by the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions:

  • Unusual activity in a person’s bank accounts, especially unusual withdrawals or withdrawals from inactive acounts.
  • ATM withdrawals when your loved one has never used a debit or ATM card.
  • Withdrawals your loved one doesn’t remember.
  • New joint account.
  • New credit card balances or non-sufficient fund activity.
  • A new “friend” wanting to accompany your loved one to the bank.
  • Unpaid bills.
  • Closing CDs or other savings tools without regard to penalties.
  • Unusual attempts to wire large sums of money.
  • Strange signatures on checks, or obvious forgery.
  • “Loans” or “gifts” of money to someone the family doesn’t know.
  • An unexplained change of address with a financial institution.
  • New credit cards or offers showing up in your loved one’s name.
  • New powers of attorney the older person does not understand.
  • A caretaker, relative or friend who takes control of your loved one’s finances without proper documentation.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Loved One is Being Taken Advantage Of

Catching a scammer can be quite tricky. That’s because many can be friendly and charming to trick someone into financial exploitation. In addition, your loved one may not recognize or understand the abuse, or may wish to protect the person (especially if it’s a close family member or friend).

However, if you reason to believe your loved one is being taken advantage of — whether it’s over the phone, online, or in person — here’s how to report elder financial abuse: alert the Oregon Department of Human Services right away. There are laws against taking advantage of the elderly and the abuse can be devastating to your elderly loved one; it’s important to end it as soon as possible. 

Call the free hotline (1-855-503-SAFE (7233)) if you suspect an adult is being abused. This hotline will offer resources to you and your loved one and connect you with local law enforcement who can open a criminal investigation into the abuse. For other questions about how to report financial abuse of the elderly to law enforcement in Oregon, visit the Oregon Department of Human Services’ website.

How an Oregon Personal Injury Attorney Can Help You Seek Justice After Financial Exploitation

If an older adult does fall victim to elder financial abuse, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Seniors and their families can put a stop to this form of mistreatment by searching for a “financial elder abuse attorney near me.”

Apart from any criminal investigation the state may be conducting, a personal injury case is a civil case that the victim controls. (That’s because criminal charges for financial elder abuse do not prevent a victim from filing a civil lawsuit.) A senior financial abuse attorney can evaluate your loved one’s claims, determine the total loss in damages, and expertly and confidently present your case to the defendant and their attorneys. The attorney you choose must be licensed to practice in your parent or loved one’s state, as elder financial abuse laws by state vary. 

Civil cases, like those brought forward by a personal injury attorney, often end in a financial settlement rather than going to court. However, that doesn’t mean you have to take the first offer to settle; experienced elder financial abuse attorneys will know how to fight until they receive nothing less than fair compensation.A civil lawsuit can return to your loved one the money they lost, but it can also return their dignity and respect. By proving elder financial abuse happened, your attorney will make sure your loved one’s voice isn’t silenced and their suffering isn’t forgotten.

What Can Seniors Do to Protect Themselves?

While senior financial abuse is common, there are ways seniors can protect themselves. The best approach for preventing elder financial abuse is to talk to your loved one frequently about scams or fraudsters they may encounter. Education and understanding is key to preventing financial exploitation of seniors.

Here are some of the ways the American Bankers Association recommends your loved one can stay vigilant and prepared:

  • Proactively protect your assets and make sure provisions are in place so your wishes are followed. Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney, or financial advisor about the best options for your will and other documents.
  • Choose carefully when you select an agent for your estate.
  • Invest in a safe; lock up your checkbook, account statements, and other personal information when others will be in your home.
  • Order copies of your credit report on a regular basis to ensure accuracy, or sign up for an online credit reporting service.
  • Don’t give anyone personal information over the phone (including a credit card number or your Social Security number) unless you initiated the call and you know the other person is trusted.
  • Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.”
  • Take your time with financial decisions; ask for details in writing and call your banker or financial advisor for a second opinion. Have your attorney review financial documents before you sign them.
  • Check references and credentials before hiring anyone, including a home care helper or house cleaner. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances.
  • Shred receipts, bank statements and unused cards before tossing them out.
  • Lock up bank accounts, checkbooks and other confidential information.
  • Make purchases with checks and credit cards to maintain a paper trail.
  • Report anyone who is making abusive or threatening statements about handing over personal financial information.
  • Trust your instincts; say “no” when something doesn’t feel right.

We Restore Dignity After Senior Financial Abuse 

In Oregon, Salem, Lathen, and Prestwich, P.C. is the experienced injury law firm that has helped seniors from Portland to Roseburg. If you believe your loved one has experienced elder financial exploitation while living in a nursing home facility, or while under the care of a home health care worker, we can help. Our team of experienced attorneys knows how to handle these senior care organizations, and their legal teams, and we will give you the confident, capable representation you deserve. 

Contact us for a free case evaluation so you can learn the potential value of your case and meet our team; with zero obligation to hire us, there’s no risk to you.