Protecting elders from financial exploitation

It’s long been recognized that one day, our society would be changed indelibly as the baby boomers began to retire. We now live in that reality. The 2010 Census found that the number of people 65 and older comprised 13 percent of our population – the largest percentage in history. And by 2050, that number is expected to rise to 20 percent.

Seniors bring so much to our lives. Their experience is invaluable, their contributions enormous, and their wisdom incalculable. But as our population has grayed, so have the opportunities for those who would take advantage.

Sunday is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, shining a light on the problems of elder abuse and exploitation. There are many facets to senior elder abuse. One of the most pervasive is financial exploitation. Seniors are targeted by scams, schemes and con artists. According to a 2011 MetLife study elders throughout the United States lose more than $2.9 billion annually due to financial abuse.

“Elderly Americans are increasingly becoming targets for financial exploitation,” said Frank Keating, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association(ABA), in anews release. “It is critical that both banks and customers know the warning signs and take precautionary measures to protect seniors and their bank accounts.”

Keating notes that bank employees are trained to notice red flags like unusual recent withdrawals or a new person accompanying the older customers to the bank – behaviors that may identify whether or not a customer is vulnerable or currently a victim of financial abuse.

Tragically, most elder financial abuse is done by family members. According to theNational Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, they may have a wide range of issues including substance abuse, gambling, or financial problems. In addition, they may:

* Stand to inherit and feel justified in taking what they believe is “almost” or “rightfully” theirs.

* Fear that their older family member will get sick and use up their savings, depriving the abuser of an inheritance.

* Have had a negative relationship with the older person and feel a sense of “entitlement”.

* Have negative feelings toward siblings or other family members whom they want to prevent from acquiring or inheriting the older person’s assets.

To help guard against exploitation, ABA suggests the following tips to help seniors safeguard their money:

Keep personal information private. Never share your social security number, account information, or personal details over the phone or internet, unless you initiated contact with a trusted source.

Shred. Shred receipts, bank statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away so fraudsters can’t piece together your personal information.

Don’t let a so-called “advisor” pressure you. Never let a new or untrusted “advisor” pressure you into sharing personal or financial details. They could be a fraudster. Carefully choose a trustworthy person to act as your agent in all estate-planning matters.

Check your credit report. Customers should check their credit report at least once a year to ensure no new credit cards or accounts have been opened by criminals in your name. Everyone is entitled to receive a free copy of his or her credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies, but you must go through the Federal Trade Commission’s website at http://www.annualcreditreport.com , or call 1-877-322-8228.

Lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.

Get to know your banker and build a relationship with the people who handle your finances. They can look out for any suspicious activity related to your account.

Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.”

Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances.

Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.

Trust your instincts. Exploiters and abusers often are very skilled. They can be charming and forceful in their effort to convince you to give up control of your finances. Don’t be fooled—if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 6/12/2014.

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