How Can I Protect Against the Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Loved One?

By Kate McQueen, Offit Kurman

It is estimated that financial exploitation of the elderly totals around $2.6 billion per year. Whether it is through physical frailty or the beginnings of cognitive decline, the elderly are often more vulnerable to financial exploitation. Be sure you know what to watch for and how to protect your loved one.

Signs that someone may be vulnerable to financial exploitation include a lack of memory about financial details or secrecy about finances, a sudden change of mood, physical frailty that leads to an increased need for help with daily activities from service providers, and a lack of family members or close friends who are close by to check in regularly. These warning signs mean that you should be more vigilant in watching for the following indicators:

1. Sudden changes in bank accounts or unexplained frequent and/or large withdrawals of money;
2. Sudden changes in a will or other financial documentation;
3. Unexpected transactions involving real property, such as a reverse mortgage or a change in the way the property is titled;
4. Unpaid bills or substandard care including lack of food in the house, despite the apparent availability of funds;
5. Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives or new friends;
6. Involvement of caregiver who isolates patient or professes unusual affection;
7. Unusual use of credit cards;
8. Unexplained transfer of funds to a family member or stranger;
9. Provision of services that aren’t necessary; and
10. Missing possessions.

While most exploiters are family members, friends, neighbors or people in trusted positions, like caregivers, exploiters can also come disguised as home improvement fraudsters or take the form of promises of sweepstakes winnings or can’t-lose investment schemes.

What can you do if you suspect that a loved one has been the victim of financial exploitation? Take action as soon as possible. Your loved one may be under the spell of the exploiter, so he or she may express upset at your actions. In most cases, though, it is more important to risk upset and prevent against further loss to protect the future well-being of your loved one than it is to placate your loved one. You can:

1. Call the police. Montgomery County has an Elder and Vulnerable Adult Task Force to prosecute those who commit such abuse;
2. Call your county’s adult protective services agency. The report should be anonymous;
3. Alert the financial institutions;
4. Create an FTC identity theft report or file a fraud report with each of the credit reporting agencies.

If your loved one has executed a power of attorney and designated a trustworthy person as his or her financial agent, the power of attorney can be a valuable tool to freeze and/or move accounts and gather information about the extent of the loss. If there is no power of attorney, it is important to have your loved one visit a doctor to determine whether the loved one has capacity to execute a power of attorney.

In many cases, there will not be capacity to execute a power of attorney, so a guardianship proceeding may be necessary.

Kate McQueen

Kate McQueen

Offit Kurman, Bethesda, United States
T: +1 240 507 1700

Published: March 2018 l Photo: Offit Kurman


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