For some people, aging is a tricky balance of maintaining independence and learning to rely on other people for help.
This is especially true when it comes to taking care of personal finances. Many of us, as we age, need assistance when it comes to making sure bills are paid, understanding changing investment needs, and keeping our assets safe and secure. Unfortunately, there are many scammers out there who see older people as potential victims of fraud. It’s crucial to be wary of where your money is, what it’s doing, and who has access to it.
First, let’s look at some examples of financial exploitation:
- Misappropriation of income or assets – Perpetrator obtains access to an older adult’s Social Security payments, pension payments, checking or savings accounts, online banking account, credit, ATM or debit card, or withholds portions of checks cashed for an older adult.
- Charging excessive rent or fees for services – Perpetrator charges an older adult an excessive rent or unreasonable fees for basic care services such as transportation, food, or medicine.
- Obtaining money or property by undue influence, misrepresentation or fraud – Perpetrator coerces an older adult into signing over investments, real estate, or other assets through the use of manipulation, intimidation, or threats.
- Improper or fraudulent use of the power of attorney or fiduciary authority – Perpetrator improperly or fraudulently uses the power of attorney or fiduciary authority to alter an older adult’s will, to borrow money using an older adult’s name, or to dispose of an older adult’s assets or income.
- Keeping extra money – Paid caregivers keeping the change from the groceries.
- Card theft – Using credit, debit, or ATM cards without permission or knowledge
- Financial theft – Draining bank accounts without knowledge or informed consent
- Property theft – Wrongfully taking property such as cars, home, land, or jewelry
- Medical theft – Stealing medications
- Mail theft – Stealing mail
- Misappropriation of assets – Wrongfully taking the assets, funds, or property belonging to or intended for the use of an elderly person or person with a disability
- Making threats – Alarming an elderly person or a person with a disability by conveying a threat to wrongfully take or appropriate money or property of the person if the person would reasonably believe that the threat conveyed would be carried out
- Unauthorized use of funds – Misappropriating, misusing, or transferring without authorization any money from any account held jointly or singly by an elderly person or a person with a disability
- Negligence – Failing to use the income or assets of an elderly person or a person with a disability effectively for the support and maintenance of the person
This might be a nerve-wracking list of things that can go wrong, but don’t worry! There are many steps you can take to keep yourself safe.
Try these tips:
- Review your bank statements in a timely matter.
- Use direct deposit for your checks if possible.
- Sign your own checks. Do not sign “blank checks” where another person can fill in the amount or the recipient name. If you need someone to help you write out checks before you sign, ask a third party to review the check and take it to the bank.
- If someone is helping you with managing your finances, get a trusted third person to review your bank statement.
- Do not sign any document without reading it carefully and having a trusted friend, family member, or attorney review it.
- Do not lend money in return for a general promissory note.
- Do not sign over money or property to anyone in return for care, even a family member or friend, without having the agreement reviewed by an attorney. The agreement must be written. Give someone else a copy.
- Safeguard your ATM, debit, and credit cards. Notify your bank immediately if one is missing.
- Do not give out card information over the telephone unless it is to someone with whom you regularly do business.
- Do not allow anyone, even a relative, to put their name on your account without your express consent. Your bank can set instead up a separate account in both names with automatic transfer of limited funds.
- Obtain and review your credit report on an annual basis. A free credit report can be obtained annually online at https://www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228 and completing a verification process.
And remember, you are not alone in keeping yourself safe and your money secure. Check in often with family, friends, and your trusted hired team. If you need more help, try local nonprofit agencies and senior centers. Larger organizations such as the AARP and your state’s Senior Law Project can be valuable resources as well.