I (Jim) have been working on two short stories this month. Although the stories are very different, they share two similarities. Both involve my series character Seamus McCree and crimes against the elderly or mentally diminished.
Fellow WWK blogger Tina Whittle and I are writing one of the stories together. That one is for an anthology expected to be titled 50 Shades of Cabernet. The co-authoring thing is a new experience for me, and I am enjoying it. (I hope Tina is, too.) The second story is my planned submission to the fourth Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime anthology titled Fish Out of Water.
This need of mine to write about financial abuse of the elderly is not new. Perhaps it stems from my current responsibility to handle my mother’s finances, and I am more aware of the potential. Maybe it’s because I write about financial crimes. Criminals always follow the money, and today’s retirees as a group have a lot of money. Maybe it’s because news articles have suggested the way we now treat elder abuse is similar to the way we used to treat child abuse: severely underreporting the extent of the crime, blaming victims, allowing institutional practices to remain unchallenged. Whoa! That’s a charge.
Consider these facts:
Much as child abuse often happens within the family, according to AARP, nearly 60 percent of the Adult Protective Services cases of financial abuse nationwide involved an adult child of the elderly person. According to a study sponsored by the Journal of Internal Medicine, friends and neighbors account for another 17%, and paid home aids 15%. In this study, only 10% of the reported cases are perpetrated by strangers.
We don’t know for sure what percentage of total financial abuse is reported. Victims are often unaware. When they do realize they are victims, they are often too embarrassed to report the crime. Sometimes they are afraid to report the crime, fearing physical or psychological abuse from the perpetrator. Those suffering from dementia, depression, or disabilities are most at risk.
Sometimes the abuse is hard to catch, taking the form of “loans” that are never repaid, cheating not only the victim, but others who should have shared in the estate. Often the crime is simple theft, extracting money from an ATM, writing checks to themselves, buying stuff with the victim’s credit cards.
Taking a few simple steps can make it more difficult for perpetrators of elder financial fraud.
(1) As early as possible make sure you (and your parents, if alive) have an estate plan in place, including a will (and/or living trust) and health directives. Discuss your wishes with family so everyone knows what is to happen if you can’t take care of yourself in the future. This may be an uncomfortable conversation with your loved ones, but bright sunshine on your finances helps makes it harder for the mold of later abuse to take hold.
(2) Be wary when “new best friends” enter the life of a loved one. Any hint of “sharing” finances or the new friend “taking care” of finances should shoot off rockets of concern.
(3) Institute checks and balances wherever possible. Only a small percentage of lawyers and financial advisors are crooks, but alarm bells should go off if your lawyer recommends a financial advisor or vice versa. Independently verify referrals. Conversely, you may be able to use a lawyer or financial advisor as a resource to help prevent financial fraud.
(4) Use technology to help monitor spending. Credit card companies provide transaction alerts, which can provide early warning of a stolen number. If you worry about a relative who is still independent but potentially at risk, you can purchase monitoring services to spot unusual activity. An example is EverSafe. (I mention them only as an example of what can be purchased. I have not used them and have no personal knowledge of how well they perform.)
(5) If one family member is responsible for a parent’s assets, make sure a second person has the ability to review transactions, asset statements, etc. I use DropBox to store my mother’s credit card, bank and mutual fund statements so one of my sisters can look over my shoulder. This protects Mom and also allows my sister to easily take over if something happens to me.
(6) If anything seems suspicious, ASK QUESTIONS.
Is financial crime against the elderly a concern for you, either for yourself or a relative? What have you done about minimizing risk of abuse?