Often occurring in the form of scams and identity theft, financial exploitation is an all-too-common form of elder abuse that is believed to cost older adults an estimated $3 billion annually, having a significant impact on their well-being and quality of life — and that of our communities as well.

Financial exploitation is both a social and economic issue: it can create legal costs and can lead to social isolation, which reduces the engagement of older adults in community activities. However, there are steps that older adults — and their caregivers — can take to prevent or reduce the risk of financial exploitation.

Risk factors

While financial exploitation can happen to anyone, older adults may find themselves more at risk if they:

• Are socially isolated.

• Rely on family members or friends to handle their finances.

• Have difficulty understanding their finances.

• Recently lost a spouse or loved one who handled household finances.

What is financial exploitation?Financial exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s money, property or assets, and can be committed by a known and trusted individual or a complete stranger.

In other words, financial exploitation can be committed by anyone with access to a person’s financial information.

The Federal Trade Commission reports that imposter scams and identity theft are among the most common types of scams. Imposter scams occur when a person pretends to be a friend, family member, or representative from a business or the federal government, and claims that they need money or personal information in order to avoid an emergency or other dire circumstance. Identity theft occurs when financial or other personal information is used for financial gain without the owner’s consent.

Signs of financial exploitationIn order to prevent financial exploitation, it is important to recognize the following warning signs that may help older adults or caregivers recognize financial exploitation.

• Unexplained or odd financial activity. Any unexplained financial activity or financial activity that exceeds financial resources. Examples include increased or unexplained credit card activity or ATM withdrawals, and the addition of authorized users to any financial accounts without the owner’s knowledge or consent.

• Changes without consent or notification. Any changes to credit cards, property titles, deeds, mortgages, Powers of Attorney, wills, trusts or other documents without authorization.

• Threats. If a family member, friend or caregiver threatens an older adult with harm, neglect or abandonment if certain actions aren’t taken. Threats may include a caregiver or beneficiary’s refusal to use funds for necessary care and treatment; an attempt to remove an individual from their home; or denied access to friends, family or other resources.

• Manipulation. If a family member, friend or caregiver asks an older adult to take on financial responsibilities without regard to the needs of the older adult.

What to do if you suspect financial exploitation

Financial exploitation of older adults is often undetected and under-reported. As with other forms of abuse, older adults who have experienced abuse tend to blame themselves.

If you observe any of the signs mentioned above and are concerned that you, a family member or friend is experiencing financial exploitation, taking the following actions can help identify and stop financial abuse in its tracks.

• Contact 911. If it appears that an older adult is in immediate danger due to suspected abuse, contact the police right away.

• Contact Adult Protective Services. Each state’s Adult Protective Services office has the authority to conduct an investigation of any suspected cases of elder abuse.

• Talk to the person you suspect is being abused. The National Center on Elder Abuse recommends asking if elder abuse has occurred, whether the older adult is afraid of anyone or if they are being harmed by anyone. It is important to remind them that abuse is not their fault. Reporting any type of abuse can be intimidating, especially when a friend or family member might be involved. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that financial exploitation is a crime.

• Call the Eldercare Locator. The Eldercare Locator’s trained staff can connect older adults and concerned caregivers with local reporting organizations in their communities.

• Visit www.IdentityTheft.gov. This website, maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, allows consumers to report identity theft, helps them develop a personal plan and provides fact sheets and other resources to help them recover from identity theft.

• Contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman. For older adults residing in a licensed nursing home or assisted living facility, a state or local Long-Term Care Ombudsman will act as an advocate for suspected victims of elder abuse and can provide information about the appropriate licensing, monitoring and regulatory agencies.

Ways to prevent financial exploitationTaking the following steps may reduce the likelihood that older adults will experience financial exploitation.

• Consult a financial advisor or manager. If managing your daily finances is difficult, consider working with a trusted financial advisor or money manager. It may also be helpful to consult a financial advisor when reviewing or signing any important documents and when making large purchases or investments.

• Create an estate plan. Having a plan for the future — financial and otherwise — may reduce the likelihood that you experience financial exploitation. Work with a trusted attorney to create any of the following documents. Note that the documents needed may vary based on an individual’s unique circumstances.

Durable power of attorney for asset or financial management. This legal document allows you to name a person you trust to make asset/financial management decisions on your behalf in the event you become unable to do so.

A living will, living trust, revocable trust or health care advance directive.

• Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. Visit www.DoNotCall.gov or call 1 (888) 382-1222 to sign up to prevent unwanted telemarketing calls. Unfortunately, scammers and telemarketers are unlikely to honor the do-not-call laws, so be vigilant and do not share any personal financial information with unknown or unwanted callers.

• Keep personal information private. Do not share private or financial information with anyone you do not know or trust. Keep personal information in a safe and secure location that unauthorized individuals cannot access.

• Never provide personal information over the phone, via email or text message. Do not provide personal information (such as your Social Security number, credit card information, ATM PIN, passwords) over the phone, email or text message unless you are certain with whom you are speaking.

• Dispose of sensitive documents properly. Shredding is the most secure way to dispose of credit card receipts, bank statements, financial records and other important documents.

• Build a strong support network. Keep in touch with others. Social isolation can increase the chances that an older adult will experience financial exploitation and the likelihood of it going unnoticed.

• Talk with others and educate our communities. The Federal Trade Commission’s Pass It On program (www.ftc.gov/PassItOn) gives older adults the tools they need to share their experiences and help prevent financial exploitation.{/div}

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