Caregiver Corner: Financial Fraud

Elder abuse is “growing by leaps and bounds” according to Janet Berry, Deputy District Attorney for Santa Clara County. Alarmingly, seniors who are abused have  three times the mortality rate as their same-age peers. Financial fraud, the most common form of elder abuse, can leave its victims depressed, isolated, and without funds for medical care or household bills. Seniors in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are particularly vulnerable.

Who would do such a thing?

According to the National Council on Aging, over 90% of reported elder abuse is committed by family members– most often adult children, followed by grandchildren, then nieces and nephews. People living
in the victim’s home are the most likely to be involved.

Fraud committed by relatives

Isolation is a key factor in financial fraud situations. For example, if you call your Aunt Mary, and she is never available to talk to you, that should be considered a warning sign. Family members may isolate the victim through messages such as “Too bad no one else in the family visits you. I’m so glad I can be here for you.” Then “Times are tough and I haven’t been able to pay my bills lately…”

Financial fraud can take many forms, but below are some of the more common types of fraud committed by family members:

  • Joint checking account abuse. Grandma’s money is grandma’s money, regardless of who’s name is added to the account. This is a common cause of financial fraud, and it is prosecuted regularly.
  • Power of Attorney (POA) abuse. POAs empower others to do very specific tasks on behalf of someone else. It is NOT a license to steal.
  • Property theft, which often takes the form of unauthorized “gifts” from the victim.
  • Unauthorized inheritance, e.g. ”Grandma wanted me to have this.” If it’s not in the will, it’s theft.
  • Changes in wills, trust, or investments due to coercion.
  • Relatives living in the house because of undue influence.

Power of Attorney

Types of Stranger Fraud

In today’s information age, there is no shortage of businesses that will sell detailed personal information to others, for a price. Scammers armed with this information typically use the phone to commit fraud, but watch out for all types of stranger fraud, including:

  • Mail theft — taking things right out of the mailbox.
  • Door to door. “We are doing your neighbor’s roof down the street…” Never hire someone who comes to the door – or off Craig’s List.
  • Phone scams. Some families disconnect the phone when things get bad, but persistent scammers have been known to send a taxi over to a senior’s house to deliver a prepaid phone!

What you can do

  • Run a credit report, and look for any suspicious open accounts.
  • Monitor the mail. Too little mail means it may have been diverted. Too much may mean a senior is being targeted by scammers.
  • Use online banking, if possible, to monitor the situation. Red flags include a sudden change in spending patterns.
  • Talk to the friends of your loved one and get their input.
  • Look for signs of depression or fear. If a family member is involved, the senior at risk may be reluctant to talk about it.
  • Watch for isolation. Don’t be afraid to call the police and ask for a welfare check. They will drive by and assess the situation.

Phone Scams

If you suspect fraud, talk to the senior in an open and gentle conversation. Finances are a private matter for anyone; a diplomatic, caring approach will be most effective in protecting your loved one.

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