First Person: Elder Financial Abuse Is a Crime

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | ABC News recently reported that a 76-year-old California woman's suing her son for taking her $51 million winning lottery ticket in 2011. She was so overwhelmed at the moment by her good fortune she had her son sign the ticket. Unfortunately, he took control of the $32.3 million payout. A year has passed and Mom wants her money. According to the Elder Financial Protection Network, financial abuse is the most under-reported crime.

It's urgent to learn to protect your aging family members or perhaps an elderly neighbor from financial and material exploitation.

The Ugly Truth

Elder financial abuse is widespread. Fred Joseph was the 2009 President of the North American Securities Exchange. He said in a Washington Post article published that year at boston.com, "Elder financial abuse is becoming the crime of the 21st century."

Fortunately, I have family that I trust unconditionally. I'm not ready to retire. I'm far from being elderly. I'm positive when that time comes my family will respect me and my earthly possessions. I still want to do all I can, though, to safeguard my future personal finances. I also understand many people have family and friends who aren't trustworthy.

I'm distressed to learn that strangers commit 51 percent of elder financial abuse and family and friends 34 percent. The elderly population fails to report financial abuse for several reasons: fear, intimidation by the abuser, dependence on the perpetrator, and a major lack of awareness that it's a crime. It doesn't surprise me that women are two times more likely to end up the victim of financial abuse. I acquired this information from a 2009/10 MetLife study.

Defining Exploitation

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) is an arm of the U.S. Administration on Aging. It defines financial or material exploitation as "the illegal or improper use of an elder's funds, property, or assets."

It astounds me that people continue to steal or misuse an elder person's possessions or money. It's an out-and-out crime. Do you know that deceiving (or forcing) an elder into signing a document is considered financial abuse? This includes a will or a contract of any kind. Sadly, one million elderly in America muddle through financial abuse each year.

As well, you cannot forge someone's signature, cash a check without their permission or withhold their finances. Improperly using guardianship and power of attorney privileges is considered abuse. It's ridiculous that financial abusers need reminding that these sleazy actions are criminal.

Red Flags

I learned a long time ago the importance of rapport with my bank. All my accounts are there, neatly in one place: mortgage, personal and business checking, and savings. They know my banking routine and money habits. If there's unusual financial activity the bank checks in with me.

If you're elderly, it's important to establish rapport with your bank or credit union. Meet with a member of the bank to discuss warning signs on your account that signal you may be the victim of financial abuse.

Red flags might include; unusual withdrawals of large sums of money, atypical or costly purchases on your ATM (debit) card, a name abruptly added to accounts or sudden and unexplained changes in financial documents.

Tell the bank you don't want anyone to conduct a transaction without the bank phoning to check with you, first. There are thousands of elderly people who have no one to watch over their financial well-being. Perhaps the bank is the last great hope.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.

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