As I’ve written about in previous blog posts, the elderly are particularly susceptible to financial abuse and tragically, it often causes significant economic loss. In fact, the 2016 Safeguarding Our Seniors Study found that the average loss to elder financial abuse victims was $36,000, which was considered a “major financial loss” or “financial ruin” by nearly half of active or soon-to-be caregiver respondents.
So, what can you do to prevent your elderly loved one from falling victim to this kind of disastrous financial exploitation? My advice is to take a proactive, two-step approach. First, always be on the lookout for the tell-tale warning signs of financial abuse. Second, as soon as you suspect that something is awry, take action.
What Are the Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse?
In my thirty-plus years of working with families and their aging parents, I’ve seen on countless occasions how “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” particularly when it comes to financial abuse. So much heartache could have been avoided if family caregivers had known about the red flags signaling that their loved one was being exploited! Here are the most common warning signs you need to pay attention to:
- Changes in cognition, confusion about financial matters
- Changes in spending patterns
- Changes in relationships with long standing family or friends
- Unpaid bills piling up
- Canceled appointments
- Increased isolation
- New “friendly strangers” appearing in the senior’s life
- Others start speaking for the client (via newly executed Powers of Attorney, e.g.)
What to Do If You Suspect Elder Financial Abuse
If you notice any of the warning signs above, there are steps you can take to mitigate financial loss—or perhaps even prevent it entirely. For example, whenever you suspect financial exploitation:
- Act quickly. Always be vigilant about the warning signs of elder financial abuse. As soon as you recognize a red flag, take action.
- Report it. Contact the appropriate financial institutions to prevent unauthorized transactions and stop further losses. In addition, you can report scams to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Contact law enforcement, as appropriate. Recouping lost funds may require establishing a criminal case. The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPA) suggests addressing financial abuse with a multidisciplinary team that includes law enforcement, banks, and others.
- Engage an aging life care professional / geriatric care manager. These trained professionals can offer support, guidance, access to resources, and compassion.
- Choose your trusted advisors wisely. Be sure to conduct due diligence for anyone who is counseling, or caring for, your elderly loved one.
- Use tools that help limit damage and deter abuse. Confirm that your loved one’s accounts are protected by the appropriate safeguards so that their personal and financial information stays secure.
How to Tell Who’s Susceptible to Undue Influence
Elder financial abuse cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute because in many instances, it may seem as though the senior willingly (and knowingly) gave their assets away. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly understand how vulnerable your elderly loved one may be to abuse tactics, such as trickery, intimidation, or coercion.
Fortunately, Bennett Blum, MD, a leader in this field, developed an effective model for gauging how susceptible someone may be to undue Influence. Using Dr. Blum’s “IDEAL” model, it’s possible to assess the following factors:
- Isolation. Why has your elderly loved one become more isolated? Is the isolation due to naturally occurring or preexisting conditions? Could it be related to a medical, psychiatric, or cognitive disorder? Do you have reason to believe their isolation is the result of a perpetrator’s interference?
- Dependency. How dependent is your loved one on the suspected perpetrator? Is that dependency physical, emotional, and/or informational?
- Emotional manipulation. Do you detect emotional manipulation? Does the perpetrator induce feelings of shame, secrecy, inadequacy, or fear?
- Acquiescence. Due to the issues of isolation, dependency, and emotional manipulation described above, does your loved one agree to the perpetrator’s demands?
- Loss. Has there been an actual financial loss?
Use the IDEAL Model to Help Prevent Elder Financial Abuse
At LivHOME, the IDEAL model is a fundamental part of our professional approach to safeguarding our clients from those who perpetrate elder abuse. More specifically, our Life Care Managers employ a two-pronged strategy that includes an assessment of which IDEAL factors were involved, as well as information gathering to chronologically map out precisely what has happened. In the case of suspected elder financial abuse, the information collected typically includes event specifics (date, time, location, description), identification of witnesses, and documentation that could be used as evidence.
To further protect our clients, LivHOME also uses:
- Stringent screening processes and background checks. We hire only 12% of those who apply to work for us.
- An advocacy model. Geriatric Care Managers are vigilant about potential abuse and are trained to detect warning signs. Home visits and consistent communication with family members help ensure that exploitation attempts can be thwarted early.
- Technology. Our proprietary LivHOME Connect technology is an easy-to-use tablet that’s attached to a kiosk and placed in a client’s home. With LivHOME Connect, we can use video conferencing to speak with and see our caregivers and clients, enhancing communication and allowing us to get feedback in real time if a senior feels unsure or threatened in any way.
Elder financial abuse is common, and it can be quite devastating. However, your elderly loved one does not have to become a victim. If you learn to spot the warning signs and employ trusted professionals for support and guidance, you’ll be able to help the senior you care about enjoy retirement with the peace of mind that comes from knowing their financial resources are intact.
Even the sharpest of us can get conned. Keep an eye on your elderly loved ones, their surroundings and their financial well being. Knowing the signs, taking early action, and getting the right team involved can make all the difference.