When you hear the term “elder abuse,” you probably think of physical abuse or neglect. However, financial exploitation of the elderly is also an all-too-common problem. Unfortunately, older people are often seen as easy targets by scammers, dishonest business people, and even unscrupulous relatives. Florida, with its large retiree population, has the highest rate of fraud in the United States.
Florida’s Elderly are Viewed as Easy Prey
It’s no coincidence that elderly people are often the target of fraud and other types of financial abuse. Some of the key reasons criminals see older Americans as prime targets for their schemes include:
- The elderly are often isolated, making them more vulnerable to charming fraudsters and making it less likely that a friend or relative will catch on and intervene
- The elderly are often physically dependent on others, making them less likely to object to questionable actions, or even fearful of standing up to caretakers
- Medical conditions and even the natural aging process mean some elderly people are easily confused or have memory problems.
Financial Abuse Risks for the Elderly
Financial elder abuse takes many forms, and it’s always wise to be vigilant. Some of the most common include:
- Investment scams
- Sale of unnecessary services, such as home repairs
- Identity theft
- Check fraud/forgery
- Future care schemes, in which the victim pays for falsely promised future care
- “Sweetheart scams,” in which someone cultivates a personal relationship for financial gain
Language like “scam” and “fraud” brings outsiders to mind, but the sad truth is very different. Vulnerable elderly people are more likely to suffer financial abuse at the hands of relatives than to be victimized by strangers or career criminals.
Perpetrators of Elder Abuse
Relatives of the Victim
Family members victimize elderly relatives for many reasons. The most obvious and perhaps easiest to understand are addictions, financial desperation and other serious problems. But sometimes the motivations are more subtle. For example, a son or daughter may rationalize theft from an aging parent because he or she expects to eventually inherit the parent’s assets anyway. Mistrust and rivalry among siblings may also lead to financial elder abuse, as one potential heir attempts to get ahead and conceal assets from the rest of the family.
People Close to the Victim
Family members aren’t the only ones who take advantage of trust and access to the elderly, or even commit crimes against them. Two common examples are caretakers who take advantage of the elderly person’s dependence and con artists who court or befriend an isolated older person to gain access to his or her assets.
The elderly are also popular targets for more general scams, including phony investment schemes, selling unnecessary services such as “repairs” to a perfectly good roof, and reverse mortgage scams that may result in older people losing their homes.
Protecting Against Financial Elder Abuse
Tips for Older Floridians
The simplest way to avoid falling victim to a scam is to do your homework. The Florida Attorney General’s office makes information available to help you educate yourself. When in doubt, seek professional advice. An attorney experienced in elder law can help you protect your assets and security.
Tips for Relatives
First, check in often. Isolation makes the elderly vulnerable, and makes it less likely that a trusted relative will see warning signs. Keep an eye out for changes in behavior, missing valuables, unpaid bills or other financial irregularities, or the appearance of new friends who quickly become extremely close to your older relative.
Depending on the circumstances, you may want to investigate legal methods of protecting the older person’s assets and ensuring that he or she is cared for, such as creation of a trust or establishment of a guardianship. If you have concerns about an older relative’s ability to manage his or her financial affairs, an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney in Florida can explain your options and help protect your loved one.
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