Money Matters

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Understand and avoid elder financial fraud

Elder fraud is a financial crime that targets older men and women who are often unable to recognize they are being victimized. Elder financial fraud is a broad term that can be applied to a host of crimes, from stealing money or property directly from an individual to using an older person's property or possessions without permission.

Many seniors are targeted through telemarketing scams in which elders are scared into giving money out of fear of losing their homes. Some are exploited by people closer to home who forge signatures or get an older person to sign over deeds or power of attorney.

Criminals often see elderly men and women as easy targets. Seniors may be suffering from declining physical and/or mental health, which compromises their ability to defend themselves or even recognize they are being taken advantage of. Seniors also may be embarrassed that they were duped and not share their experiences with others as a result. But elder fraud also can be perpetrated by family members who aim to acquire an elderly relative's assets.

Recognizing scenarios where fraud may be committed can help men and women protect their elderly relatives from being victimized by elder fraud.

• Confirm professionals are who they say they are. More than 170 designations and certifications are used within the financial industry to identify professionals. Some of them do not necessarily mean a person is qualified or can be trusted to handle an individual's assets. Always ask a financial advisor if he is overseen by a government agency or is authorized to provide advice under the "fiduciary standard of care." Be especially careful when dealing with advisors who try to push certain products or those who suggest shortcuts and blending services. Such professionals are not necessarily criminals, but they may have ulterior motives in mind and not be overly concerned about you or your loved one's financial well-being.

• Pay attention to your accounts. Unusually large withdrawals from automated teller machines or cashed checks with signatures that do not match the signature on the account are both indicative of fraud. If you are monitoring a loved one's accounts, question any surges of activity in accounts that are normally somewhat inactive.

• Ask a loved one to keep you abreast of changes in their will. Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents should also cause concern. Family members caring for a senior should be aware of any major changes to important documents.

• Monitor a loved one's purchases. Sudden purchases, whether it's an updated insurance policy or unnecessary home repairs, may be indicative of elder fraud.

Elder financial fraud targets an often vulnerable segment of the population, and it's often up to loved ones to protect their elderly relatives from being victimized by such crimes.