Grandma’s sharper than you think
When 99-year-old great-grandmother, Mary Williams* discovered that a new car had been purchased in her name, she knew right away that she was being scammed.
To her surprise, it was her own granddaughter who had used her name as a co-signer on that new car. Being a tough cookie, Ms. Williams confronted her granddaughter and straightened out the matter right away. She is sharper than many people think, including her own granddaughter.
She is not alone. According to a study conducted by MetLife, millions of seniors lose about $2.6 billion a year to financial exploitation. Possibly the saddest finding is that 55 percent of elder financial abuse in the U.S. is committed by family members, caregivers and friends. And according to an article on Bankrate.com, between 60 and 90 percent of all reported elder abuse is committed by adult children.
Ms. Williams was lucky. She discovered her granddaughter’s misdeed before it got a chance to ruin her finances. But other elders in our communities haven’t been so lucky.
Inside the scammer’s mind
Elder financial abuse at the hands of family members might be the most harmful. Family members have the greatest access to an elder’s personal information. And they often lack a real sense of wrongdoing because they know the victim so well.
But there are other reasons why targeting elders is relatively easy to get away with. From forging signatures to playing the guilt card, elders must watch out for the landmines peppering the path to their golden years.
Our Asurea Scam Report has compiled a list of reasons why people scam their own grandparents and other elderly relatives. Here’s what elders can look for to detect the next scam:
- People with substance-abuse, gambling or money problems may be desperate enough to steal money from an elderly relative with savings or other useful assets.
- Those who stand to inherit often feel justified in taking what they believe will eventually be theirs — even though it’s not theirs yet.
- Fearing that an elder will use up his or her savings on growing health-care expenses, some relatives will try to steal away with funds before the well runs dry.
- Sometimes, an elder and their finances get caught in the middle of a larger family dispute. Relatives who dislike each other may play a game of keep-away with an elder relative’s money that they each feel entitled to.
What are the indicators?
Surely, not everyone is set on pilfering grandma’s savings. If you’re trying to protect an elderly relative from financial abuse at the hands of other family members, then you might look for these signs:
- Excited talk of a new “best friend” who often offers to “help out” or “keep company.”
- Unexplained bank and ATM withdrawals and big or small bank transfers.
- Legal documents (e.g. power of attorney) that the elder didn’t understand when signing.
- A caregiver expressing interest in the amount of money the older person may have.
- Valuables, such as gold or diamond jewelry, that are missing from thier usual spot.
- Strange explanations given by caregivers about the elderly person’s financial records.
- Absence of documentation or confusion about financial arrangements, such as burial payments or medication co-payment amounts.
Even at 99, Mary Williams* was able to uncover her granddaughter’s scheme. But she also had other loved ones in her corner, looking out for her best interests. Unfortunately, not all elderly people have the protection or mental and physical strength to steer clear of financial fraud.
On top of that, the amount of paperwork and legalese involved in fixing cases of elder fraud — whether at the hands of a family member or a stranger — can be daunting. By the time elders realize they’ve been scammed, the damage has usually already been done.
Know the signs. Don’t let the elders in your life slip through the cracks.
*Name changed to protect individual’s identity.
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This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice.