Embarrassment and guilt are feelings that often accompany being a victim of financial abuse. These strong emotions play a role in the underreporting of this crime by older adults. No one wants to admit they have been taken advantage of –especially older adults who may be afraid of appearing weak and foolish to their adult children. Many times, the person that harmed them is a family member and they are reluctant to turn them in to the authorities. If the older person is abused by a caregiver, he or she may not report the crime because they are afraid of retaliation. Some older adults with cognitive impairment may not be aware they are being exploited, may find the whole situation confusing, and may not know how to report the crime.
It’s important for all adults to know the signs of financial exploitation, because someday this could happen to your parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or dear friend. There are several signs to look for – and then to further question. Be concerned if you notice your loved one is suddenly not able to spend money the way he typically does or doesn’t have enough money to pay his bills when he always has before. Ask questions if your loved one is forced to sell valuables, or you notice that your loved one is buying things that he doesn’t need.
Pay attention to any changes in their financial matters, such as the changing of property titles, policy beneficiaries or power of attorney or if your loved one decides to make a new will. If you have access to your loved one’s bank statements, look for account activity that wouldn’t have been possible for your loved one to do – such as an ATM withdrawal while they are bedridden. Any large withdrawals or transfers of money should also arouse suspicion.
Older people with dementia are particularly vulnerable. If they are still in control of their finances, make sure they can understand the decisions they are making. Be alert for anyone in your loved one’s circle that seems to be a little “too interested” in your loved one’s financial situation.
As hard as it can be to accept, a caregiver could be a perpetrator. Caregivers who are under financial stress and those with drug or alcohol problems may be potential abusers. If your loved one is being kept isolated from family and friends, or if you notice they are not receiving quality care that you know they should be able to afford, investigate the situation. Older adults being abused are typically afraid to speak in front of their caregiver.
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If you suspect abuse, report it to the authorities.
Resource: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau