How to protect yourself and your loved ones
Financial Abuse of the Elderly
by Bill Hardekopf
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As our population ages, a disturbing trend is evolving: elder financial abuse continues to grow.
The estimated annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is over $2.9 billion, a 12 percent increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008, according to the MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse.
Elder financial abuse occurs when someone commits unauthorized use of an elderly person's funds or property. This exploitation can be done by an outside scam artist through phony prizes, charities or investment fraud. Abuse can also come from a caregiver, friend or family member that steals cash or household goods, engages in identity theft, or misuses checks, credit cards or other financial accounts.
The MetLife study shows that strangers were involved in 51 percent of the fraud cases, while family members, neighbors and friends took part in 34 percent of the crimes. Women are nearly twice as likely to be victims of elder financial abuse as men, and most victims are between the ages of 80 and 89. They live alone but need some help with either health care or home maintenance.
This problem will only intensify as the elderly population increases. According to the Administration on Aging, persons 65 years or older numbered 39.6 million in 2009, about one in every eight Americans. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to 72.1 million older persons.
Signs of Financial Abuse
If you are a senior citizen or help care for a senior citizen, it is important to know the signs of elder financial abuse and how to prevent it:
- Significant or unexplainable withdrawals from the elder's accounts.
- Items or cash missing from the house.
- Questionable changes in wills, titles, policies, and power of attorney.
- Addition of names to financial accounts or credit cards.
- Changes in shopping patterns. Suspicious purchase of goods, services, or subscriptions.
Preventing Elder Abuse
Here are some tips on how to prevent financial abuse of the elderly:
- Make sure financial and legal affairs are in order. If they aren't, enlist professional help to get them in order, with the assistance of a trusted friend or relative if necessary.
- Keep in touch with family and friends and avoid becoming isolated, which increases vulnerability to elder abuse.
- Shred or dispose of papers with personal information such as charge receipts, bank statements, expired credit cards, or new credit card offers.
- Do not give out your Social Security number or personal account numbers unless you made the first contact and know the institution.
- Guard credit cards. Watch sales people, wait staff and anyone who asks for your credit card. Anyone who handles a credit card may be able to get access to financial records when they swipe a senior's credit card for a purchase.
- Close unneeded lines of credit and cut up those discontinued credit cards.
- Reduce junk mail and unsolicited credit card offers to reduce your chance of identity theft. Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or do this online.
- Get on the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce telemarketing calls. Visit their website or call 888-382-1222 to register your phone number.
- Hold monthly meetings to go over financial statements, bills, and credit card accounts.
- If you are concerned about the abuse of credit cards, switch to a prepaid card. The deposit determines the spending limit.
- Before making a large purchase or investment, talk it out with someone you trust. Don't be pressured or intimidated into immediate decisions.
Reporting Elder Abuse
Each state has a toll-free elder abuse helpline for reports of elder abuse. The National Center for Elder Abuse provides a directory of state helplines and elder abuse resources.
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Bill Hardekopf is CEO of LowCards.com, a site that simplifies the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates.
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