Elder financial abuse is a growing problem in the United States as those 50 and older control 70 percent of the nation’s wealth according to information released by the American Banker’s Association. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), in a survey of elderly individuals, discovered 9.5% of the elderly reported experiencing financial abuse and fraud by a family member or friend. The NCEA reports some examples of elder financial abuse are when an individual cashes an older person’s check or withdraws funds from a bank account. This is a common problem. The NCEA in a recent report highlights the fact that more than 20% of the population will be elderly by 2030, and highly vulnerable to financial abuse or fraud.
Steps to avoiding financial abuse include helping an elderly individual keep track of bank accounts and credit information. Often, in the case of financial abuse, it is possible to see fraudulent transactions on credit reports as in the case when someone opens a new account in the older adult’s name. The NCEA cautions that the elderly are vulnerable to fraud and may be convinced to sign documents transferring property or other assets. Making sure the senior is not being forced or threatened to use personal resources to pay for something is another suggestion. Making sure an older adult consults with an attorney before signing any document is valuable as the NCEA found in a recent survey that some of the greatest losses in assets came from seniors not understanding documents they were asked to sign.
Elder financial abuse can also occur with the improper use of power of attorney. Power of attorney abuse can include unauthorized real estate actions in addition to bank account withdrawals.
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Another way seniors can become victims is when someone steals medical information and uses insurance to get procedures done, which can then become costly for the elderly. Keeping in close contact with the elderly and helping them to understand not to share their personal medical information is very important to protect their assets from abuse. The NCEA recommends taking care to get rid of past medical bills and other documents that could be used to gain medical treatment or resources.
Educating seniors on how to safeguard their assets and when to seek legal counsel in cases of potential elder financial abuse will help in protecting the elderly. Never giving out personal information and keeping track of assets when depending on others are some important first steps. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) offers ongoing resources to help the elderly and those who care for them identify potential financial abuse or fraud by keeping up to date on ways that seniors may be exploited. As those committing the fraud get wiser, so must seniors to avoid losing what they value.
If you fear you or your loved one might fall victim to elder abuse or fraud, contact a qualified elder law attorney at Bratton Law today and take the first step towards protecting yourself.