It all started with small changes in the way Jane acted around her family and friends. She became distant and disinterested in many of the relationships and activities that typically filled her life with joy. As time went on, she dropped out of social gatherings and hid inside her condo, only emerging to go to the grocery store or to pick up packages delivered to her front porch. Jane was a victim of financial exploitation and she felt embarrassed that she fell for the scam and didn’t want anyone within her family or her friend group to know she could be taken advantage of. To avoid awkward questions, she withdrew from family and friends. To recover financially on a fixed income, she hunkered down and tried to adjust to her more limited means.
What forms does financial exploitation take and how would you recognize it?
People, regardless of their age, income, educational levels, or social status can be victims of financial exploitation. Older adults are more often targeted due to their regular income and accumulated assets. However, their monthly income may be a fixed amount and if they suffer a loss through financial exploitation, the impact on their lives will be great. Financial exploitation can take many forms:
1. Scams of all varieties
- lottery/sweepstakes scams
- romantic (virtual or local)
- income tax and more
2. Abuses by family members, neighbors, or caregivers
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, only 1 in every 44 cases of elderly abuse is reported. The dollar value of this financial exploitation amounts to more than $36 billion annually. Many older adults do not report this exploitation because they are embarrassed, they fear being seen as incompetent, and do not want to destroy relationships with family members, neighbors, and caregivers.
An example of financial exploitation of the elderly can be the theft of property by family, friends, contractors, and caregivers over time. Another example could be an agent with legal power of attorney misappropriating financial resources for their use and not for the benefit of an elderly person. Sometimes the people closest to the elderly are the ones who prey on them.
How to Respond to Financial Exploitation of the Elderly
If you see or think a crime is being committed, call the non-emergency number of your local police and report it. If you suspect abuse or financial exploitation, you should report it to the Florida Division of Children and Families – Adult Protective Services. There is a reporting hotline and weblink for this office, by county, in the state of Florida. If this occurs in another state, there are similar offices in every state. Financial scams should also be reported to the Florida Attorney General’s Office where there is an interagency team to protect older Floridians from financial exploitation through scams. It is called The Senior Protection Team – Florida Attorney General.
Financial exploitation of the elderly is a problem we should all be watching for. Maintaining open and honest communications with our elderly friends and family could open the door to them sharing this type of abuse with you. Being respectful of the older adults’ concerns and engaging with the financial exploitation problem can help protect everyone from further abuse.
Tom A Gruber | CPA/PFS