We hear about older Americans being the victims of con artists who steal their life savings through many financial scams. These include emails that claim they have won a lottery and need to send their bank account information to claim the prize. However, stranger danger actually only accounts for about ten percent of the fraud perpetrated on our seniors. About 90 percent of the financial abuse of elders is home-grown. With that in mind, here are tips for seniors to avoid getting ripped off by their loved ones.
A Second Set of Eyes
Before your aging loved one signs anything, she should take it to her lawyer to review. Many seniors sign over the title to their home or a financial power of attorney (which is like a free pass to all their accounts and assets), without realizing what they signed. When their adult child or someone else close to them asks them to sign something, they often trust that the document is what the child says it is. They do not even consider or want to believe that their child would steal from them.
The older adult should also talk with his lawyer to make sure that he is protected against fraud from those close to him. There are ways to make it more difficult for people to get their hands on his money. However, he must take the steps before the damage, not afterward. For example, he can set up his accounts, so all withdrawals or checks over a specified amount must have two signatures.
Pull the Credit Report
Have your older loved one request her free credit report once a year and go over it to make sure her accounts are in order. If someone is a joint owner of an account, make sure it is not fraud. Verify that her credit card balances are not higher than they should be. Sometimes a family member gets a senior’s credit card information and uses it as his personal piggy bank.
Call in the Officials
There are two times when you should contact your local authorities and agencies about elder financial abuse – before it happens and after it happens. First, contact your local agency on aging and office of adult protective services to see if they have any elder fraud prevention programs. Your prosecuting attorney’s office might also have a special elder fraud or elder abuse task force. Learn how they can help your loved one avoid being the victim of fraud.
Sometimes, no matter how careful the senior is, a close friend or relative pulls a scam and swipes some of his assets. If this happens, immediately contact the local prosecuting attorney, the adult protective services office, and your local agency on aging to take action. Sometimes, they can reverse the transactions and get the money back or have the title revert to the senior. The more time that passes, the less likely it is that he will ever see his assets again.
Because laws differ across the nation, talk with a local elder law attorney to see if your state’s laws vary from the general law of this article.
AARP. “Fraud in the Family) (accessed April 7, 2018) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2018/family-fraud.html