Elderly are vulnerable to financial exploitation

It's a sad fact that senior citizens in the United States are all too frequently the victims of financial exploitation. What is particularly insidious about the situation is that it typically remains undetected until the financial damage is already done.

According to one study done by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, each year, senior citizens are collectively defrauded out of $2.6 billion. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) puts the figure even higher at nearly $3 billion.

Invisible crime?

The problem is actually far worse than it appears on paper. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) posits that for each reported case of financial exploitation, another four or five fly under the radar of law enforcement and adult protective services (APS).

Part of the reason for so many unreported cases is shame. Few relish having to reveal that they were duped by a con. Others may be suffering from the early stages of dementia — a condition that likely made them a vulnerable target in the first place. They lack the cognitive skills to make a report, so no red flags are raised.

The inside con

While strangers or venal caregivers for hire can take financial advantage of the elderly, most often the threat is from the older person's own family, close circle of friends and advisers.

Often, a relative who is financially dependent on the elderly person is the one in charge of their day-to-day care and checking account. Even if the relative provides impeccable care, if they are financially bleeding the senior citizen dry, it's a major red flag to anyone with oversight of the situation.

Report abuses

Sometimes, there may be an inkling that something is amiss with an elderly relative's finances. Maybe they are getting utility cut-off notices or NSF check notifications. It's a good idea to take a deeper look if you suspect a problem.

In some cases, it might be necessary to open up a criminal case against the person suspected of financial exploitation of the elderly.

Protect their assets

If you think that one of your parents or grandparents is vulnerable to financial exploitation, you would do them a great service to recommend that they do some basic estate planning with a reputable elder law attorney and financial adviser.

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