Question: Who hasn’t heard of someone who has suffered in this manner? I bet virtually all of us know at least one story about a relative or a friend of a relative that this has happened to. Of course, in my business, I am increasingly coming across this issue and being asked to intervene.
Elder Abuse, Financial Exploitation and Predatory Behavior
By Dan Goldberg, CSA, MBA
Managing Director, IKOR of North Shore LI
There have been many studies over the past few years citing the alarming number of cases of senior abuse. Reportedly seniors lose at least $36b each year to financial abuse. But the reality is that cases are most certainly under-reported and that there are a significant number of non-financial abuses as well (e.g., verbal, physical, emotional). So the bottom line is that abuse is extremely prevalent and only going to increase as seniors continue to make up an ever-larger percentage of the population.
This hits all of us. It is a growing societal problem. So much so that even the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine has published findings, in an article by Mark Lachs, M.D., M.P.H, which warned physicians, “Financial exploitation has recently been identified as a virtual epidemic.” Some studies claim that 1 in 10 seniors will experience financial exploitation in any given 12-month period.
Why is this so? The very obvious main reason is that, to paraphrase the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton, that’s where the assets are. Other reasons include seniors being potentially more socially isolated, more trusting, with more chronic health issues where their personal information can be mishandled.
Those seniors at increased risk include people with dementia (and unfortunately this portion of the population is also increasing). The other main factor increasing exploitation risk is living with family. In fact, the abusers are more likely to be adult children or spouses.
Solutions – No Silver Bullet
Expressing reservations to a professional is a good first step, as is reporting the incident(s) to Adult Protective Services (“APS)” and perhaps law enforcement. However, rarely does a single intervention stop the abuse. The best course of action often involves multiple professionals that know the individual and may include; a family friend, the personal physician, the family attorney, the family accountant, the family financial advisor, the family bank, the family health care advocate or care manager.
A Few Ways to Slow or Halt Financial Abuse
One way to slow or stop financial abuse without causing too much friction may be to have a family member be a joint signature on the various bank and investment accounts so that any movements of money would require two signatures. Of course, the senior would have to agree to the dual signatories. Another idea is to open a new bank account and move almost all monies to the new account so that an ATM card can only access the small checking account. Yet another option is to open a senior bank credit/debit/ATM card tailored to senior’s needs like a True Link Financial card.
Elder abuse continues to rise despite increased awareness, safeguards and training. The victims often have feelings of shame, anger, guilt and/or depression. Be sensitive to this. It is incumbent upon all professionals and caregivers to be keenly aware of potential abuse and be alert to its occurrence. As they say in NY, “see something, say something.” Get involved. And remember that a single intervention rarely does the trick. We must coordinate resources to ensure that the safety and dignity of the senior is maintained and the exploitation is halted. Stay involved and remain ever vigilant.