August 09, 2018
Although massively underreported, financial exploitation is increasingly becoming a rampant form of abuse among aging adults, particularly those with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. These crimes are now so widespread that elderly financial abuse is often called “the crime of the twenty-first century.” According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), one in nine seniors has reported being abused, neglected or exploited within the last year, and one in twenty seniors has indicated some form of perceived financial mistreatment.
Unfortunately, most abusers are close friends, acquaintances, or family members who take advantage of situations of cognitive decline and diminished capacity; in fact, NAPSA reports that 90 percent of abusers are family members or trusted others. Financial abuse can take many forms, from soliciting for fake charities to telemarketing scams and identity theft. If you have elderly family members, understanding the warning signs of financial elder abuse and how to prevent it can help protect your loved ones from falling victim to these crimes.
Who is at risk for financial elder abuse?
Elderly people who live in social isolation, need help with the activities of daily living, or are experiencing declining mental or physical health are typically most vulnerable to financial elder abuse. According to a 2011 Study of Financial Elder Abuse by Metlife, women are more likely to be victims of elder abuse than men, and most victims of financial exploitation are between the ages of 80 and 89. However, men and women of all races, economic status, and health levels are at risk.
What are the warning signs of financial exploitation?
The National Center on Elderly Abuse defines financial or material exploitation as the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property or assets. Common signs of financial exploitation may include:
In addition to financial consequences, elder abuse can also have emotional effects such as depression, irritability, withdrawal from normal activities or strained relationships—warning signs easy to dismiss in aging individuals with declining health.
What can you do to prevent financial elder abuse?
While it’s important to understand the signs of elder abuse, it may be more productive to take steps to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place. Before these warning signs appear, one of the best safeguards against financial elder abuse is to create a strong support system to keep an eye on elderly family members and loved ones. A family conversation—or, more likely, a series of conversations over time—can help you gain insight into your loved one’s affairs and mental state.
However, if you recognize warning signs or suspect someone you know is being exploited, addressing the issue immediately, whether that means getting the proper authorities involved or confronting the abuser directly, is often the best way to prevent additional abuse. If you are concerned that an elderly family member may have been the victim of fraud or other abuse, ask him or her directly. One of the reasons elder abuse is underreported is that well-meaning onlookers are afraid to act unless they’re certain that abuse is occurring.
Cathy Schnaubelt is a senior wealth strategist for CIBC Private Wealth Management's Houston office, with more than 35 years of industry experience. In this role, Cathy is responsible for the development of integrated wealth management solutions and provides comprehensive estate and financial planning services to high net worth clients.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on July 5, 2018.
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