ELDER FINANCIAL ABUSE & EXPLOITATION “Be aware, take notice, act”
In New Hampshire our State psyche could be described as independent and self-reliant, however with a rapidly aging population, we must all be attuned to predatory and opportunistic individuals perpetrating various scams on our more vulnerable citizenry.
Nationwide, the over 65 demographic accounts for only 1/8th of the US population but as many as 1/3rd of this group have become victims of a wide variety of scams. It is thought there are three common explanations for this disproportionate number of people falling prey to some truly reprehensible activity; namely, Memory Loss, Loneliness and a Trusting nature.
Who are the abusers and scammers?
Sadly, those closest to an elder are the ones who may see an opportunity to enrich themselves; family members, caregivers, friends and neighbors and other casual acquaintances. Sometimes a legal guardian or Agent under a Power of Attorney may be the perpetrator. The voice on the phone applying pressure to ‘act now’ and ‘not to tell anyone’, represents a group of manipulators not known to the target, who operate slickly orchestrated telephone and internet thievery. Let’s acknowledge too, dishonest home repair contractors- a veritable rogues gallery.
Research points to the natural aging process as a factor in a lowering of our ‘trust but verify’ intuitive response that allows a chink in senior perceptions for unsavory characters to step in and take advantage. Having reached sexagenarian status, accumulated wisdom is balanced out with us simply taking longer to problem solve, decision making and reasoning skills are slower, our judgement may be impaired. It is not by happenstance that urgency and speed of response are demanded in scams, and calls received late in the day rather than early morning – seniors tire mentally after 2 p.m, studies show. The simple mantra ‘that’s NOT the government calling you’ should always be remembered if one encounters the most widespread scams of all, the IRS and Social Security Scams. No legitimate government source is calling us at 6 – 7 p.m at night.
While some note seniors as more trusting, they’re actually better at detecting lies than younger people but can fall prey to scams around fake charities and causes. Stronger patriotism creates some vulnerability with scammers from fake government agencies and law enforcement impostors.
In New Hampshire our top four reported elder fraud and exploitation activities are:
Unsolicited Phone Calls
Robbery & Theft
Signs to Look For
The subject of money management may be tricky to broach if you suspect something amiss with your elderly loved one. However, if he/she has financial activity that is inconsistent or shows sudden changes that cannot be explained, or is confused about why he has less money, be concerned.
Other red flags are:
Unexplained withdrawals from the bank.
Unusual activity in the bank accounts.
Checks made out to “cash only” or written as ‘gifts’ or ‘loans’ to someone the family doesn’t know.
Withdrawals from ATM when the elder could not have made that transaction
New joint account suddenly opened up
Unpaid bills and sudden non-sufficient fund activity.
Sudden appearance of credit card balances -new credit cards in loved one’s name.
Bank and credit card statements that no longer to the customer’s home.
Reluctance on the part of the person with responsibility for the funds to provide basic food and clothes etc.
Fraud – suspicious signatures on checks or outright forgery.
Theft and misuse of possessions.
New “best friend” wanting to accompany the elder to the bank.
A caretaker, relative or friend who suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of the elder without proper documentation.
New powers of attorney the elder does not understand.
Elders demeanor changes – they appear to not be taking care of themselves.
What to do if you feel a crime has taken place
It is a crime, in New Hampshire if:
Someone improperly controls your property or money
Somebody forces you to create a relationship that gives them power or control of your money or property
Someone who has power over your money or property misuses that power
When instances of exploitation are suspected, there is an abundance of resources available to address these crimes. Such resources, many at no cost, are as follows:
NH Elder Abuse and Exploitation Unit of the Attorney General Office –Tel 603-271-3658
Dept of Health & Human Services Bureau of Elderly & Adult Services - Toll Free 800-949-0470 or 603-271-7014
Call 911 and report to local police
Call Service Link – Service Resource Center national Toll-free number 1-800-634-9412
211 New Hampshire – access information about available health and human services
Legal Advice & Referral Center – 800-639-5290 for free legal information, advice and referrals
While anyone can be the victim of financial exploitation, this practice is especially egregious when directed towards our seniors who often live on fixed incomes and are reliant on those that abuse them.
Exploitation however, knows no boundaries – all socio-economic levels are affected. It takes the village to care for elders, we must all do our part relative to vigilance and caring for our seniors.