Look out for certain factors that may indicate that a loved one is a likely target of financial abuse. Of course, no single sign is conclusive proof, but staying aware will help you avoid or limit the fallout if there are any problems.
- Unusual or large withdrawals or transfers from bank accounts, or large credit card charges that the older person can't explain.
- Checks that are missing or include suspicious signatures.
- An individual who suddenly forms a close relationship with the older person, getting easy access to his or her home, money, and other property.
- Newly executed documents, such as a will or power of attorney, that the older person doesn't seem to understand.
- Changes in account beneficiaries or authorized signers.
- A large number of unpaid bills.
- Missing property.
- Entry forms and prizes from contests, and payments made for "free" vacations or other merchandise.
- Untreated physical or mental problems, including a dramatic change in mood or disposition, or other evidence of substandard care.
- Sudden social isolation.
Where to Report Suspected Abuse
There are now a number of individuals and groups dedicated to investigating suspected financial abuse, and finding and stopping perpetrators. Here are some options for taking action.
Notify bank personnel. Depending on the type and extent of financial abuse involved, giving a heads up to the bank tellers and officers who commonly handle the elder's accounts may be enough to stop the wrongdoing. Bank employees are often in a good position to note suspicious activity, such as a sudden withdrawal of large sums of money or use of an ATM card by an elder who is housebound.
The laws in most states encourage or require bank officials to report suspected elder financial abuse. And a federal law requires financial institutions to file a Suspicious Activity Report with the federal government when they suspect elder financial abuse.
Get help from a senior services group. While the services offered -- from counseling to legal assistance -- vary widely depending on the locale, the Eldercare Locator, at 800-677-1116 directs callers to local programs and services that help prevent financial elder abuse. And INFO LINK at 800-394-2255 helps arrange and coordinate assistance with crimes.
Contact Adult Protective Services. Adult Protective Services (APS) is the government-affiliated agency charged with investigating reports of elder financial abuse and offering assistance to victims. To find your state APS office, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse's website at www.ncea.aoa.gov (click on "Find State Resources").
Alert law enforcement. The police or local prosecutor's office will often intervene when there is good evidence that a crime is being committed.
To learn more about elder abuse, get Long-Term Care: How to Plan & Pay For It, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).
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