Financial exploitation is a serious and growing problem for senior citizens. Theft, improper use or deprivation of benefits, money and property can occur outright or through one of the many types of scams which target the elderly. The elderly are frequent targets because they may be trusting, vulnerable due to grief, abused, lonely and isolated, unfamiliar with managing financial matters, not have planned for the potential loss of decision-making ability, or reluctant to report exploitation, especially by someone on whom they are dependent.
Perpetrators of these crimes can be telephone, mail, or internet scammers, caregivers, fraudulent investment advisors and home repair contractors, agents under a power of attorney, and/or family members.
Seniors are frequently targeted with Medicare and other health insurance scams, romance scams, grandparent scams, home improvement scams, IRS scams, investment scams, sweepstakes/lottery scams, reverse mortgage scams, and counterfeit prescription drug scams.
Furthermore, seniors who lose their life savings often have little or no opportunity to regain what they have lost, and the financial exploitation may result in the loss of the ability to live independently. It may also result in a decline in physical or mental health.
To help combat such exploitation, the Senior Safe Act was signed into law on May 24, 2018. Financial professionals can provide a critical frontline role in identifying and reporting senior financial exploitation, and the act addresses obstacles financial professionals face in reporting suspected senior financial exploitation to authorities. Under certain conditions, the act protects covered financial institutions and their eligible employees from liability in any civil or administrative proceeding for reporting a case of potential exploitation of a senior citizen to a covered agency. This immunity can be helpful when a financial institution wants to report potential exploitation, but is concerned that the report could violate privacy regulations.
The FDIC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau jointly developed an excellent resource called Money Smart for Older Adults, which is available in a downloadable format free of charge, on the FDIC website at https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/moneysmart/olderadult.html.
Awareness is the first step in preventing financial exploitation. Plan ahead for the possibility of diminished financial capacity and potential loss of decision-making ability. Reporting and early intervention are vital to preventing loss and recovering loss when possible. If you or someone you know becomes a victim of financial exploitation or another form of elder abuse, contact your local Adult Protective Services agency. You can find information about your local agency at the Eldercare Locator by calling 1-800-677-1116 or at eldercare.acl.gov, a public service provided by the U.S. Administration for Community Living.
If you believe the person’s safety is at risk, call 9-1-1 for an immediate response from the police. If a crime has been committed, including cases of identity theft, contact your local police. For identity theft, also contact the Federal Trade commission at 1-877-438-4338 or identitytheft.gov. Many financial institutions can provide a Federal Trade Commission identity theft kit. If the loss involves funds held in a financial institution, report the problem to the financial institution immediately. If the loss involves credit products, such as a credit card or loan, contact the creditor immediately.
Being alert and working together, we can reduce the risk of financial exploitation for the seniors in each of our lives.