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Don't be a victim of financial abuse

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A couple years ago, someone convinced an elderly friend of mine to sign over her financial power of attorney to them.  This individual also convinced my friend to change her will and to sign over title to her home and car.  There was a wild, crazy couple days as I desperately contacted Adult Protective Services and then called everyone I knew in Senior Services. 

As a stop gap measure, while I looked for family members or someone else to step up, we decided to get the financial power of attorney signed over in my name.  So we walked into her bank together to do the deed.  Because the financial power of attorney had just been signed over to someone else’s name, the bank became understandably suspicious and sent me to her home branch.  The moment I walked in with her, the bank staff tried to separate the two of us.  I hope that such a move would scare the daylights out of a crook but it calmed me down immediately.  Suddenly I didn’t feel like it was just me looking out for my friend.  It was an entire bank.  I’ve looked at banks with completely different eyes since then.

I rarely bank in person.  Online banking and ATM machines have largely taken over my personal transactions as I’ve watched banks become less and less friendly towards actual customers.  However, there’s definitely an age gap between people who feel as I do and people who can’t imagine depositing or withdrawing money without talking to “Carol” or whoever is their regular contact at the bank.  Because of the “Carol’s” though, there’s an unofficial first line of defense against financial elder abuse that is filled by financial organizations whose employees have access to their customers very personal financial information and thus can spot erratic banking transactions, frequent large withdrawals, uncharacteristic “insufficient funds” notices, a transaction for a really cool gaming console and in home theater (not that there aren’t seniors who buy those kinds of things), weird handling of CDs  or attempts to wire large sums of money to a grandson in jail in Mexico (shhh, he’s too embarrassed to tell his parents).

It sounds like I’m having a lot of fun with this but that’s because there’s not much that can be done once the money has been successfully wrested from the senior’s control and so it’s important that people take  steps immediately rather than waiting to see what shakes out.  Elder financial fraud is big business and it’s incredibly difficult to prosecute since the victim is often too embarrassed to admit fraud has happened, frequently knows or thinks they know the person involved and in the case of fraudulent financial professionals the scam looks legitimate.    The sums of money are likely to be lifetime savings and worst of all many people experience severe emotional trauma as a result of being a victim of scams.

So who is likely to be scammed?

  • Someone who recently experienced the death of a loved one
  • A woman in her 80s
  • Someone who lives alone and requires some help (They don’t have to be though.  People in nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities are scammed as well.)
  • A Caucasian
  • No one local with which to interact socially
  • Without transportation options of her own
  • Poor physical or mental health

 How do you avoid being scammed?

  • Keep a trusted family member in the loop regarding your finances.  If you have children, let them know where your money is. If you don’t have family, find a trusted lawyer or financial advisor or find a nonprofit that can help manage and protect finances.  If you have an elderly family member you think is vulnerable to financial abuse, talk (don’t nag) about it and find ways to be aware of financial decisions.
  • Vet any investment decision before making a decision no matter how time sensitive something seems.

If you are a senior who has been scammed, report it.  If you suspect abuse of a senior, report it.  In Washington state, go here for numbers and links.

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