Provided by Steven V. Greenstein, Sanibel Captiva Trust Company
Sadly, one in five older Americans becomes the victim of financial exploitation each year. Annual losses run about $3 billion, with an average loss totaling more than $120,000. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, older adults are targeted not only because they have accumulated more than $18 trillion in assets (about 67% of all U.S. wealth) but also because they are more likely to be suffering from problems with memory and judgment, making them quite vulnerable to fraud.
The reality is that as we grow older, we become more dependent on others for day-to-day care and assistance with financial affairs. Unfortunately, family members become the most frequent financial abusers, followed by others in positions of trust, including caregivers and friends. When family members are involved in the financial exploitation, they often have substance abuse, gambling, or financial issues of their own that influence their deceitful actions.
So, for family and friends who do have the best interests of loved ones at heart and want to protect them, it is important to keep an eye out for warning signs of financial abuse. Red flags can include: large or unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts; new “friends” accompanying loved ones to the bank; notices of insufficient funds or unpaid bills; checks written as gifts or loans; bank statements being sent to a third party; a caretaker or friend conducting financial transactions without proper documentation; changes in ATM withdrawal patterns; and closing CDs or bank accounts without regard to penalties. If possible, it is always a good idea to establish a relationship with a local banker to enlist their help in stopping any criminal activity and to prevent its occurrence.
For seniors who want to protect themselves and their assets, some tips include: locking up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home; shred store receipts, financial documents, and credit card offers before throwing them away; never give personal information – including social security numbers and passwords – to anyone over the phone or on the internet unless you initiated the conversation and you trust the other party; and trust your instincts since abusers are often very skilled, charming and forceful in convincing you to give up control of your assets.
As a result of the dramatic increase in financial abuse among seniors, there are more resources available from local law enforcement agencies and State and Federal regulators. In Florida, both the Adult Protective Services Division of the Department of Children and Families and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation have added telephone hotlines and online access for filing complaints and reporting senior fraud crimes. Federal financial regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, have done the same and are devoting additional personnel for prevention and investigation to help seniors stay safe, secure, and protected. Over the coming months, The Trust Company will host online and in-person presentations by experts who can further educate all of us on the latest pitfalls and how to avoid them. We hope you will attend, and we always look forward to hearing from you if we can be of help.
If you think you or a family member has been the victim of financial exploitation, please reach out to your financial advisor for information on how to contact the appropriate agency to help you find the answers you need.