Seniors have spent their whole life growing their nest egg to enjoy their retirement years. Consequently, older adults are prime targets for financial abuse, which can include theft, scams, fraud, forgery, embezzlement or money laundering. People living in isolation and those with Alzheimer's or dementia are especially at risk for financial exploitation.
It’s not just about paying attention to the growing threat of savvy scams and hoaxes. Oftentimes, older adults are taken advantage of by people they trust, like friends, neighbors, caregivers or even family members.
How to Prevent Financial Abuse
These strategies can protect your elderly parents’ assets and keep them safe.
Establish a Connection
Warning signs: Mood changes, a new “best friend,” failure to pay bills or paying the same bill more than once, misplacing checkbook or credit cards, interest in get-rich-quick schemes, confusion regarding basic financial terms
It’s hard to know what’s out of the norm if you aren’t in touch with your parents and their current financial situation. Having meaningful conversations with your loved ones about their accounts, their documents, their hopes and their worries is the first step to help prevent elder financial abuse. Plan regular meetings to discuss finances and consider assigning certain tasks to different family members so it doesn’t overburden one sibling.
Monitor Financial Accounts
Warning signs: Unexplained withdrawals or transfers, large payments, more fees and commissions, uncharacteristic buying and selling, reluctance to discuss financial matters
Your loved one’s bank, credit card and investment statements can often be the first red flag for financial abuse. Be judicious in reviewing these important documents — and regularly log into accounts to assess any money moves. Now’s a great time to simplify, too. There’s no need to have so many credit cards; limit the amount of accounts and cancel anything unnecessary.
Read Credit Score Reports
Warning signs: Drastic changes in credit score, new accounts or inquiries, increased credit usage, late payments and penalty charges
While scanning your dad’s bank statements is helpful, it won’t show if someone requested a credit card at another financial institution. Subscribing to a credit monitoring service can alert you to financial abuse in its early stages. Farm Bureau’s Identity Services and Fraud Expense Coverage helps you monitor, prevent and resolve identity theft using credit monitoring services.
What to Do if Your Elderly Parent Is Being Scammed
Despite the efforts above, we can’t always shield our loved ones from financial abuse. If you’ve recognized the signs of financial exploitation, your next step is to document the abuse.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you’ll want to record these four items.
- The time, date and location of the incident(s)
- Names and contact information of the suspect and any witnesses
- A thorough description of the financial abuse, including any documentation, like bank statements
- Relevant information about your loved one’s health conditions, especially ones that could impede their decision-making abilities
You’re now ready to report the abuse. If you believe your family member is in urgent danger, call 911. Otherwise, contact one or more of these agencies.
Your Local Police Department: Call the nonemergency phone number to file a police report that documents the crime.
Adult Protective Services: Each state has its own organization that helps address elder mistreatment, including financial abuse. Find your state’s chapter here.
Long-Term Care Ombudsman: If your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted-living facility, reach out to your state’s ombudsman. This organization advocates for standards in elderly care.
Caring for Our Most Vulnerable
If you suspect financial abuse, call your Farm Bureau agent. They can help you navigate these difficult conversations and go over options for financial protection. If you determine the best step is to make changes to or close your loved one’s accounts, you will need legal authorization first to access those accounts. Farm Bureau members have the option to complete a Consent for Release of Information form and Designation of Secondary Addressee form to open lines of communication with trusted contacts while complying with privacy laws. Having these forms on the record is a smart first step to protecting your loved ones from financial exploitation.