The month of June commemorates Elder Abuse Awareness Month. Millions of elders in the United States are becoming targets for elder abuse, particularly financial abuse and exploitation. It is estimated that elders in the United States lose at least $2.6 billion dollars on an annual basis as a result of financial exploitation. With such a large amount of money on the line, thieves and scammers create sophisticated strategies to take advantage of one of our most vulnerable populations. Sadly, the perpetrators can often times be someone close—such as family members! Whether you are a senior citizen yourself, or you have elderly parents, grandparents, or neighbors, you must take the appropriate steps to prevent yourself or others from falling victim to financial exploitation.
Spot the Red Flags:
• Unexplained fluctuations in bank accounts, including unusual spending behavior.
• Large gifts made to others.
• Modifications to an existing will or power of attorney.
• A sudden change in mood, and the refusal to discuss financial concerns.
• Unusual use of credit cards, frequent ATM withdrawals, or checks made out to “cash.”
• New people or long lost family members reappearing in the elderly individual’s life.
• Changes to financial documents, such as insurance policies or retirement accounts.
• Rushed financial decisions.
• Annuity sales that do not make financial sense based on the elderly individuals age.
• Create a “team” of professionals who are acutely aware of your financial position by obtaining a Certified Financial Planner® Professional, Certified Public Accountant, and an attorney. You will definitely want these trusted advisors in your corner should you fall victim to financial exploitation.
• Elders are highly targeted through Internet and e-mail due to the perception that they lack awareness in the realm of technology. Always be cautious when utilizing the Internet and never share personal information unless it is to a trusted party.
• Legitimate governmental agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, will never make unsolicited calls to retrieve your personal information, like bank account numbers and Social Security numbers. Hang up immediately!
• Communicate with your loved ones, friends, family and neighbors. Isolation can increase the risk of financial exploitation, so it is imperative that elderly citizens have a network of trusted individuals that check in with them regularly.
• Never make rushed financial decisions or sign documents you don’t understand. Obtain the specifics of financial agreements and acquire a second opinion by sharing it with your trusted advisor.
• Sometimes it is too good to be true! Learn more about frequent scams that target elder individuals. For example, scammers will target elderly victims by tricking them into believing that they have won a generous amount via lottery or a sweepstakes. Do not pay a fee or “taxes” to collect these so-called winnings.
• Authorize your financial institutions to contact trusted individuals regarding unusual financial transactions.
If you are an older adult, be proactive and take the necessary steps to reduce your risk to financial abuse. You may optimistically believe that it won’t happen to you, but it could! Financial abuse can have long lasting effects on not only your life, but your loved ones’ lives as well. If you are aware of active elderly abuse, or there is cause for suspicion, by Texas law, it is required that you report the elder abuse. To report elder financial abuse, contact the Adult Protective Services at 800-252-5400 or online at TxAbuseHotline.org.
Published in the Victoria Advocate
Carlee H. Gibbs, CPA is a staff accountant for Keller & Associates CPAs, PLLC.