What is the source of most elder financial abuse? Look no further than friends and family

  • June 11, 2018

BY: BYRON MOORE, CFP®

posted June 11, 2018

Vladimir smirks at a computer screen, furiously typing as he chain-smokes one cigarette after another.

He is hacking into your bank account.

Green numbers flash across his screen, indicating the systematic draining of your bank account into his off-shore account, all accomplished from his dingy apartment building somewhere in upper Siberia.

From a hot and humid internet cafe in Cameroon, dozens of teen-aged online scammers send out email after email, each pretending to be a long-lost Nigerian prince, heir to a tanker of oil if he can just get a $10,000 bank account open…with your money. And…wonders!…he promises to split the money with you once he sells the oil!

That’s how many of us imagine most of the financial fraud and identity theft perpetrated against America’s elderly.

According to an elder needs survey recently released by Wells Fargo, nearly one in five Americans aged 65 and older have been victims of elder financial abuse. The survey claims that over $36 billion is lost each year to financial exploitation, criminal fraud and caregiver abuse.

But the billions lost aren’t mostly going to Vladimir or a cadre of pseudo-Nigerian princes. They are being lost to sons, daughters and trusted care-givers.

The elderly are being fleeced by those they love.

My own experience is merely anecdotal, not scientifically researched. But the Wells Fargo study hardly surprises me.

I’ve seen adult children who never quite cut the apron strings and got used to mooching off mom and dad far into adulthood. A bad habit morphed into larceny after dad was gone and mom was dependent.

Greedy children who could not wait for Mom to die simply began helping themselves to what was hers with little regard to her well-being.

Care-givers trusted with the day to day well-being of a frail, old person help themselves to groceries, household goods and cash.

Some human beings are capable of noble acts of kindness, self-sacrifice and mercy.

But others of us can also stoop so low as to make your skin crawl. Using the ATM card of a bed-bound grandmother? Stealing the identity of an Alzheimer’s patient who no longer remembers their own? Ugh.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Anticipate. Plan now to have your affairs in order with a backup plan that leaves someone trustworthy in charge in the event of your incapacity. If you have a child that fits that description, great. But if you have any doubt about the money maturity or trustworthiness of your children, please get someone else involved. It may be an attorney, CPA, financial advisor or trust officer. But don’t put this decision off.

Communicate. Whether it is with a responsible adult child or a trusted advisor of some sort, communicate clearly about what you have and where you have it. Now is not the time to be modest or mysterious. If they don’t know where it is, how can they keep an eye on it?

Delegate. You’re going to have to make some provision to give them permission and power at the right time. That may be a will, a trust document, a general power of attorney or a healthcare power of attorney. Or perhaps all four. You don’t have to hand over everything now, while you are healthy and right-minded. But while you are in that (good) state, you’ve got to prepare for the day when you aren’t.

None of us like to think about being helpless. And we certainly don’t like to think that those closest to us would ever take advantage of such a situation.

But if even the smallest hint of concern was triggered by reading these words, don’t put it off.

Act now so you won’t be a victim then.

 

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