A study released by MetLife Mature Market Institute
, New York, revealed that perpetrators of elder financial abuse typically are not strangers to the victim. Most perpetrators have gained the trust of the older individual, according to the report.
The shocking truth: Family members and caregivers are culprits in 55% of reported cases.
Take steps to reduce the likelihood you or a loved one will become a victim:
* Establish who will have power of attorney.
* Don't commingle funds with those of the person granted power of attorney.
* Check references and conduct criminal or background checks on all hired help.
* Be suspicious of all phone solicitations. Simply say "no thank you" and hang up.
* Get to know credit union staff members; they are trained to recognize warning signs affecting accounts and to report suspicious activity.
What to watch for:
* A family member taking advantage of an elderly relative may have a substance abuse, gambling, or financial problem. Sometimes, a relative feels a sense of entitlement. The individual may have negative feelings toward other family members and want the older person's assets.
* A change in routine. Warning signs: changes in spending patterns, lots of unpaid bills despite available funds, missing money or valuables, comments from the elderly person that they're being taken advantage of, an abrupt change in the person's will, an unexpected sale of property, and not letting you see financial records.
* Isolation. Elders frequently live in isolation from the outside world, according to the White House on Aging report. More difficulty getting hold of Mom or Dad could be a significant warning sign.
What should you do?
* Check on them. Are you on good terms? Build on the friendship. Check with them regularly and watch for changes.
* When you talk with them, pay attention. Are they tracking well? Do they understand what's going on? Monitor their living situation. Are they taking care of themselves? Financial abuse often is accompanied by other types of neglect.
* Consider a medical check-up. For good measure, take them to a doctor for a physical check. They can be assessed for cognitive function, and you'll get better insight into the situation.
* Contact authorities. If you suspect a family member is exploiting an elderly relative, write down your concerns. Be specific. Use summarizing bullet points.
* Stay calm. You'll hurt your case if you're emotional.
* Keep notes and contact numbers. Document whom you talk to, and when. It adds credibility.
* Call Adult Protective Services, local law enforcement, and the person's financial institution as soon as possible. In many communities, APS is listed under the Department of Human Services or Social Services. Many states have elderly abuse hotlines, which can be found at www.elderabusecenter.org; click on "Help for Elders and Families" and "State Elder Abuse Hotlines."
* If it's an emergency, call 9-1-1.