PhotoA word of advice to senior citizens: be very careful which family members you trust with your finances. In fact, researchers at Virginia Tech suggest you might be better off finding someone outside your circle of family and friends to help you.

Karen A. Roberto, director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, found that of the 1,128 news articles on elder abuse published from November 2010 through January 2011, 31 percent dealt with abuse of a financial nature.

Family, friends, neighbors

Although slightly more than one-quarter of these events were identified as singular random acts incurring relatively minor financial losses, a high level of brutality and disregard for human life characterized these crimes, she found.

Even more disturbing is the revelation that family, friends, and neighbors were identified as perpetrators in 45 percent of these cases and the overall dollar losses at the hands of family and friends were higher than from any other category of perpetrators.

“Our findings support what service providers have long suspected, older adults are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse during the holidays,” said Roberto. “This might be due to the increase in the frequency of visitors in and out of their homes, money flowing more freely, and distractions that take them out of their normal routines.”

The research study, which also analyzed newsfeeds from April through June of 2010, determined that older Americans are losing $2.9 billion annually to elder financial abuse, a 12 percent increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008. “A trend,” said Roberto, “that perhaps is a reflection of the state of the economy.”

Women more likely to be victims

Elderly women, especially those between the ages of 80 and 89, were found to be nearly twice as likely to fall victim to financial abuse as men. They often lived alone and frequently required some level of assistance with either health care or home maintenance.

Conversely, nearly 60 percent of perpetrators were found to be younger males between the ages of 30 and 59. In almost all cases reported through the newsfeeds studied, financial abuse was achieved through deceit, threats and emotional manipulation of the elder.

Roberto offers 10 tips of preventing financial abuse:

  1. Stay active and engage with others; isolation increases both vulnerability and opportunity for victimization.
  2. Monitor your financial affairs. Even if assistance is needed, you or a trusted friend or family member should double check bank and credit card statements and other financial transactions. It is advisable to use direct deposit when possible and to sign your own checks if able.
  3. Stay organized. Know where your financial documents are (including wills, trusts, and power of attorney). Keep them safe and review annually; update as circumstances change.
  4. Discuss benefits of appointing a Power of Attorney with your attorney so that your directives can be adhered to even if you become incapable of stating them yourself.
  5. Be cautions in making financial decisions. Do not allow anyone to pressure you into making a hasty decision. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never give out bank account, social security or credit account numbers to solicitors.
  6. Protect your passwords. Do not share banking, computer or ATM passwords with others, and notify company or bank if you notice any questionable charges or transactions.
  7. Beware of telephone solicitations. It is not rude to hang up when an unknown caller tries to talk you into doing something you don’t want to do or buying something you don’t want. Hang up! Then call the National Do Not Call Registry at 1-888-382-1222 to reduce the number of solicitation calls you receive.
  8. Be careful of individuals who may take advantage of you. Elder financial abuse can be committed by anyone, including caregivers or family members. Be wary if anyone pressures you to do something with your money or possessions that you are not sure you want to do (e.g. adding their name to your bank accounts or property titles). Be especially careful of someone who tries to keep you isolated from others, and call a trusted family member or the police.
  9. Recognize potential financial abusers. Most abusers are very persuasive in convincing the elder of their trustworthiness. Again, never make a monetary decision without talking it over with someone you are sure has your best interests at heart.
  10. Know what to do if you believe you are a victim of financial abuse. Put aside your fear or embarrassment and discuss your concerns with someone you trust, be it another family member, clergyman, bank manager, or attorney.

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