A detailed article in the January 2013 issue of Consumer Reports investigates financial abuse of the elderly “by neighbors, friends, employees, and relatives – the very people entrusted to care for and protect seniors.”
From the high profile case of philanthropist Brooke Astor, whose son Anthony D. Marshall was convicted of defrauding and stealing from her, to everyday occurrences across the country, the problem is widespread. “In a national study from 2009, 5.2 percent of older Americans said they’d been victimized by family members, and 6.5 percent said they’d been exploited by others,” the article said.
An article in the Washington Post in 2012 reported similar findings in a survey by the Investor Protection Trust, which found that “more than 7 million Americans – one out of five citizens over the age of 65 – have been victimized by a financial swindle.” The Post reported on a survey conducted by IPT, a nonprofit devoted to investor education:
“In a recent poll of 756 state securities regulators, financial planners, health-care professionals, social workers, adult protective services, law enforcement officials, elder law attorneys, and academics, IPT found that the top three financial exploitation problems identified by experts were: theft or diversion of funds or property by family members, followed by caregivers, and then financial scams by strangers.”
The Post article cautioned readers to watch for warning signs such as:
“∙Social isolation. Con artists look for seniors who seem lonely. Their desperation for companionship often makes them an easy target for exploitation.
∙Concerns about a caregiver. A senior may complain that she gave the caregiver if $50 for groceries that should have cost no more than $20 and didn’t get change back.
∙The senior complains that the son he gave his power of attorney who won’t tell him what’s going on with his finances. ‘It’s a red flag if you hear the senior say, “When I ask about my money the person says, ‘It’s too complicated, you really don’t want to know,’”’ [IPT chief executive Don] Blandin noted.”
Here are some additional red flags from Consumer Reports:
“∙Missing property, large unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts, or transfers between accounts.
∙Excessively large reimbursements or ‘gifts’ to caregivers or friends.
∙New authorized signers on a person’s bank account.
∙Changes in banks or attorneys.
∙Bank statements and canceled checks no longer coming to the person’s home.
∙Changes in spending patterns, such as purchases of items the senior doesn’t need.
∙Changes in documents such as a will or power of attorney, or a change in beneficiaries that the senior can’t completely explain or comprehend.”
Consumer Reports recommends precautions the elderly and their families can take. The first is:
“Hire the right professionals. Engage a CPA or certified financial planner to handle such concerns as how much money you can withdraw safely from retirement funds. Hire an estate-planning attorney with elder-law expertise to write your will and power-of-attorney documents; they can also craft trusts, which can limit relatives’ access to your money.”
Other recommendations from Consumer Reports include obtaining background checks for caregivers; shredding documents with identifying information; setting up direct deposit of checks and automated payment of recurring bills; listing and photographing valuables; and having financial institutions “send statements and alerts to a trusted person who has no access to any of your accounts to check for fraud.”