Elder financial abuse is a frightening epidemic in this country. According to the U.S. Senate’s Aging Committee, senior citizens in our country lose approximately $3 billion due to financial elder abuse each year. Additionally, 1 in 9 Americans over 60 has experienced abuse with only 1 in 23 cases being reported. Abuse can originate from complete strangers, or in some instances, older Americans are victimized by their loved ones and caretakers. Often times, when abuse happens, credit unions are on the frontlines for spotting it.
Throughout the month of June, which is designated as National Elder Abuse Awareness Month, the League will be sharing tips to help recognize the signs of elder financial abuse, as well as best practices for prevention. In his latest financial literacy blog, Jake Holmes, the League’s Financial Outreach Coordinator, outlines four steps to consider for preventing elder financial abuse:
- Keep in Contact: Two of the biggest risk factors for financial elder abuse are isolation and cognitive impairment. Staying in touch with friends and family is a great way to prevent abuse. While you may be vulnerable alone, there is strength in numbers. Abusers tend to avoid targeting elders who have a strong social network. It’s also a good idea to have someone you trust keep an eye on your financial accounts. In the event of any cognition decline, your trusted contact can help you maintain healthy financial well-being.
- Get Educated: Educate yourself on the current solicitations and scams. Between internet fraud, investment schemes, telemarketing scams, and more, there is a lot to learn about when it comes to prevention. Reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging for any questions, consider joining AARP for education content, and touch base with your local credit union. Staff at credit unions around the state have been trained to help prevent financial exploitation of the elderly.
- Review Financial Documents Regularly: Consistently reviewing your account statements and checking your credit report can help prevent financial elder abuse. If you see something suspicious or spot a clear error, you can make a dispute before it’s too late. If you’re reviewing a financial document and you don’t fully understand it, don’t sign it. Abusers often try to trick or coerce the elderly into signing documents for their benefit.
- Hire a Professional: You can hire a lawyer to work with you on understanding documents, and establishing trusts and other financial arrangements that discourage financial abuse. Lawyers can also help if there is tension in the family due to bequests or beneficiaries, as they can recommend a mediator or counselor to work with the family – to both protect the elder’s interests and address the family’s questions or concerns.
Jake was featured on a recent segment on WGME News 13 where he spoke about this important issue. For additional information on preventing elder financial abuse, visit the League’s website, and join us this month in spreading awareness about this problem.