According to a MetLife study, seniors who are most vulnerable to financial abuse are women who are at least 80 years old, who live alone, and who receive help with healthcare or home maintenance. Any senior, however, might become a victim of financial abuse. As our parents age, their declining mental skills and memories make them targets for scammers, swindlers, and thieves who prey on the elderly. Identity theft, fraud, and theft from bank accounts are common crimes committed against seniors.
To protect your aging parents from financial abuse, you need to stay involved in their financial lives. By regularly asking questions and reviewing your parents’ bank statements and other financial records, you can identify scams before your parents’ financial resources are depleted.
Here are five things you should look for as you work to protect an aging parent from financial abuse.
1. Anomalies in financial records
As you review your parents’ financial records, take note of the following red flags:
- Credit card charges from companies you do not recognize, or from vendors that sell products or services your parent would have no need to purchase.
- ATM withdrawals from locations your parent would never visit.
- Daily ATM withdrawals of the maximum withdrawal limit.
- Checks written to people whose names you do not recognize.
- Bank notices stating that a new signer has been added to an account.
- Contracts for property purchases that you know nothing about.
- Contracts or engagement letters from a new investment advisor, broker, or financial manager.
- Medicare statements showing payment for medical equipment or services that were never provided.
Any of these anomalies may warrant further investigation. If your parent seems confused or cannot give a satisfactory explanation when you ask about suspicious transactions, alert the fraud department of the financial institution that handled the transaction and ask for an investigation.
2. Unpaid bills
If you see notices of delinquencies for medical bills, condo fees, or other statements for which your parent would normally write a check or that should have been paid by an automatic deduction, ask your parent whether he or she remembers paying the bill. If the bill was paid by check or if it should have been paid by an automatic deduction, review the account to see if it lacks sufficient funds to pay the bill. If the account should have an adequate balance to cover monthly bills but checks are bouncing, someone may be draining funds from your parent’s account.
3. Suspicious products and documents
If you find insurance policies, service agreements, vitamins you’ve never seen before, or other products around your parent’s home that they probably do not need, find out where they came from. Your parent may have been the victim of telemarketing fraud.
Telemarketers often swindle the elderly by promising “free” prizes, drastic discounts, or “today only” deals that seem too good to be true. They may offer investment opportunities that promise unrealistic returns. They often want to be paid by cashier’s check or money order so the seniors cannot stop payment after they discover they have been defrauded. Help your parents cancel any suspicious contract immediately and report the scam to appropriate state or federal authorities.
4. Reverse mortgages
A reverse mortgage is an appropriate financial product for many seniors. A legitimate reverse mortgage allows seniors to use the equity in their homes to supplement their incomes or to meet ongoing needs. Instead of repaying the loan in monthly installments, the reverse mortgage lender receives full payment of the loan plus interest when the senior dies or sells the home.
Unfortunately, reverse mortgage scams plague the elderly. Unscrupulous businesses use reverse mortgage products to steal equity from homeowners. Since even legitimate reverse mortgages can be difficult to understand, you need to be vigilant in assuring the legitimacy of a reverse mortgage offer.
If your parent is considering a reverse mortgage, find out whether the loan is insured by the Federal Housing Authority. If it is not, or if you cannot easily establish the authenticity of the lender, the reverse mortgage offer may be a scam.
5. Caregivers seem to be hiding information about your parent
If a caregiver regularly answers the telephone when you call and tells you that your parent is unavailable, or if the caregiver hovers and interrupts when you are visiting, the caregiver may be trying to prevent you from learning about financial abuse. If the caregiver gathers the daily mail and does not let you or your parent see it, the caregiver may be concealing billings or bank statements that would reveal unauthorized activity.
A caregiver who does not want you to have access to your parent or to your parent’s financial records may have stolen your parent’s checks, misappropriated credit cards, or applied for credit using your parent’s name. One way to safeguard your parent is to set up online accounts so that you can review them periodically. If a password unexpectedly changes, contact the financial institution immediately and ask it to freeze the account until you can regain access to it.