Elder abuse is not a fun topic. It is all too often misunderstood, not easily recognized and almost never reported.
How bad a problem is it? An article in this past Thursday’s The Lima News told of the opening of the Area Agency on Aging 3’s second local office dealing with the growth of elder abuse.
Financial abuse of elders is a serious problem. According to the legal website NOLO.com, financial fraud is the fastest growing form of elder abuse. A recent study by Consumers Digest estimated there are at least 5 million cases of elder financial abuse in the United States every year but reports to law enforcement or government officials total only one in 25 cases. A similar study by the National Adult Protective Services Association puts that number even higher, at just 1 in 44.
As astonishing as those figures may be, the National Center on Elder Abuse reports that 90 percent of the perpetrators are family members or people the victims know well, such as neighbors, friends or caregivers!
Scams are also a significant form of elder abuse.
A white paper by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission discussed three main factors that make the elderly particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation and why the problem is likely to get worse:
• Cognitive decline is a key factor. When cognitive decline begins, financial impairment is often one of the earliest warning signs for patients, families and doctors. According to the study, physical decline and dependency are also risk factors for elderly financial exploitation.
• The older generation has more money. Changes in long-established financial and pension systems further compound the problem, just at the time in their lives when their ability to manage retirement savings may become impaired.
• With the Baby Boom generation now increasing the size of the elderly population, it is feared there will be a parallel growth in elderly financial exploitation.
As family, friends, neighbors, caregivers, or professionals serving elderly clients, we need to be aware of the warning signs of potential elder financial abuse. The key to spotting the problem is a change in an older person’s established financial patterns.
• Unusual activity in an older person’s bank account, including large, frequent or unexplained withdrawals or transfers.
• ATM withdrawals by an older person who has never used a debit or ATM card.
• Confusion, fear or lack of awareness on the part of the older person.
• Checks written as “loans” or “gifts.”
• A caretaker, relative or friend who suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of an older person without proper documentation.
• New “best friends” accompanying an older person to the bank or other daily activities.
• Sudden unpaid bills or non-sufficient funds activities.
What should you do if you suspect financial abuse is happening to one of your older loved ones or friends?
Talk with them if you see any of the signs outlined above, specifically about what is happening with their financial situation, such as a new person “helping” them with money management, or a relative using cards or credit without their permission.
Contact Adult Protective Services in your region or state for help. In our area, the Area Agency on Aging 3 is that resource. Their number is 419-222-7723.
If you feel that a scam or fraud is involved contact your local police.
Whether you are a relative, friend, caregiver, or a professional serving an older client, be an “extra set of eyes” guarding against elder financial abuse.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.