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Coast Hills

How To Spot And Report Elder Financial Abuse

by Joshua D. Scroggin
April 15, 2019
Hand of an older adult cupped together

Some time back at CoastHills, we received a member calling in to request an unusual transaction. The member was a senior, and the funds being transferred were out of the ordinary for her.

Our Member Services Officer had a bad feeling that something was wrong and got permission from her supervisor to deliver the check in person.

Unfortunately, our employee found a grisly scene at the home. The member was being abused physically and financially by her own family. The staff member reported what she saw to the authorities, who stepped in to remove the member from her abusive home.

The reality: If it hadn’t been for one person taking the initiative to follow up on a bad feeling, that member never would have gotten the care and attention she deserved.

Elder abuse takes a variety of forms, and scammers view seniors as easy prey. As folks get older, they become more vulnerable to neglect and exploitation. It’s our duty to help protect the people we care about. Here are some signs to watch out for.

Is your loved one forgetting major financial decisions?

There’s forgetting where you put your keys, and then there’s forgetting the $1,000 withdrawal you signed for. The first happens to everyone, young or old. But as seniors begin to show signs of dementia or mental decline, the stakes become much higher.

Missing money is a definite red flag. It could be that the person has legitimately forgotten what they’ve spent their money on. Or it could be that someone has gained unauthorized access to their accounts. They could just be embarrassed or afraid they’ve been the victim of a scam. Whatever the case, it’s a sign they need help.

Are they isolated from trusted family or friends?

Is your loved one on their own? Maybe they don’t have people they trust living close enough to make regular visits to check up on them. Those are the types of scenarios that make it easy for strangers to befriend an elderly person just so they can take advantage or outright steal from them.

Scam artists can exploit isolated seniors who may be eager for new friends or connections. Be aware of new relationships started with your older parents, friends and neighbors — especially if they begin to come with financial strings attached.

Is a certain relative speaking on their behalf?

Having a loved one nearby or living with an elderly person isn’t always for the best. In some cases, it’s the adult children of a victim who are leveling the abuse. It could be anything from manipulating their medication to physical assaults. Keep watch for unexplained injuries, malnutrition, or poor housekeeping.

The abuser will commonly keep the elderly person out of sight. They will speak for them. That’s a convenient way for self-serving family members to misuse checks or credit, steal cash and otherwise steal the victim’s identity.

What can you do?

If you believe someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. In the case of the member that needed help at the top of the article, the Credit Union employee saw first-hand how the victim needed medical attention. For less dire but still serious situations, consider your local law enforcement’s non-emergency line.

Maybe you’re not sure law enforcement is the first place to start. Your county’s Adult Protective Services can provide support. For those in long-term care or assisted living facilities, there is a Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in place in California to advocate for the rights of residents. Law requires other U.S. states to maintain similar programs.

Additionally, the U.S. Administration on Aging can connect you to services for older adults and their families. Visit their website or call the hotline at 1-800-677-1116.

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