In our last blog post, Manning & Clair shared the story of “Ron,” an elderly man from Summit County, Ohio who was financially exploited by an allegedly “helpful” neighbor who ended up stealing more than $1.5 million in less than two months. In this blog post, we share tips of how to spot red flags involving financial exploitation. By reading our tips, you will learn how to prevent this from happening to an elderly relative or friend of yours. Before reading this blog, we recommend reading A Tale of Deceit: Exposing Elder Financial Exploitation.
Elder Financial Exploitation is as Prevalent as Ever Before
The statistics tell the tale. Elderly Americans are at a high risk of being victims of financial exploitation, especially during the coronavirus pandemic where isolation is more commonplace. According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, seniors lose $2.6 billion annually to cases of financial exploitation. And that number could be much higher since many cases go unreported. In fact, only 1 in 44 cases of elder financial abuse or exploitation is reported, according to the National Audit Protective Services Association.
Kinds of Elder Financial Exploitation
Elder financial exploitation can take many different forms. It can include:
- Identity theft
- Use of debit or credit cards
- Lottery scams
- Telemarketing or internet scams
- Abuse of power of attorney
In “Ron’s” case, the exploitation started with an illegally-obtained power of attorney. Then, it
spiraled from there.
Warning Signs of Elder Abuse
What are the red flags to watch for when it comes to elder financial exploitation? Warning signs include:
If an elderly person is isolated or limited in their mobility, it makes them think differently. This can lower their guard and allow them to establish trust levels with people they would not normally interact with.
New People in their Lives
Are new people suddenly interjecting themselves into the picture and giving advice on financial or legal matters? Are new folks paying their bills, or driving them to the bank, lawyer or financial adviser’s office? It could be a neighbor, niece, nephew or other family member. It may start as a genuine offer of help, but a sudden interest where there wasn’t before could be a red flag.
Changes to Legal or Financial Documents
Sudden changes to legal or financial documents, or suddenly missing documents, are definite red flags. Documents could include estate documents, insurance policies, retirement accounts, etc. Making multiple unexplained trips to attorneys or financial advisers without notice is a warning sign. Or, switching advisers without consent because “Mary or Bob said we should switch” is a red flags.
Encountering a Gatekeeper
If a new “friend”, “helpful” neighbor or long-lost relative comes into the picture and restricts access to an elderly relative or won’t allow you to speak to the family member without them being present, should raise a red flag.
New Phone Numbers or Email Addresses
Red flags include suddenly changing or turning off cell phone numbers or email addresses, another person answering their phone or oddly-worded texts or email responses. This may indicate that someone else has access to them and is “managing” communications.
Giving away money, transferring assets to people, unusual spending behavior, checks being written to cash or the unexplained disappearance of cash or property are warning signs that something isn’t right. Exploiters will often sow seeds of mistrust by telling elderly individuals “stories” that well-meaning relatives are trying to “steal” their money and not to trust them.
What You Should Do if You Suspect Elder Financial Exploitation
The first thing you can do to help prevent elderly relatives or friends from becoming victims of financial exploitation is to maintain regular contact with them. Knowing what is going on in their lives and who is involved will help prevent bad actors from entering the picture.
In elder financial exploitation cases, the best advice to well-meaning relatives or friends is to trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or sound right, ask questions and challenge new “friends” or relatives in firm manner. If your gut continues to tell you that something isn’t right, enlist the services of the experienced probate attorneys at Manning & Clair to investigate the situation. We are passionate about preventing abuse, and will diligently work with you to seek justice.