How to Protect Against Elder Financial Abuse
By Sandra W. Larson, CFP ®
On May 24, 2018, the Senior Safe Act of 2018 was signed into law. The Act is to encourage a collaborative effort between regulators, financial firms and legal organizations in order to prevent senior financial abuse.
Financial abuse can range from stolen jewelry, credit card misuse, forged checks, fake lottery schemes, investment schemes and many other abuses. Recently, a friend of my mother at an assisted living residence received a call from a person saying she had won the lottery and that for $2500, they would send her the $1 million lottery winnings. Fortunately, she was not convinced that she had won a lottery. At 87 years old, she was aware enough to understand that this was a scam. But many other elderly folks have fallen for this scam. In this case, the caller realized that she had switched to speaker phone and that she was having someone listen in. He hung up and never called back. An elderly woman without support might have done whatever it took to get that lottery money.
There are many cases of Elder Financial Abuse. From their own kids taking money by manipulation or theft by unscrupulous caregivers, financial abuse comes in many forms. The Senior Safe Act of 2018 has been put in place to help financial professionals defend their clients by spotting changes in behavior from their elderly clients. If there are more withdrawals than previously requested, we are encouraged to question why the change has occurred. If the client becomes more forgetful or has difficulty understanding basic concepts, we will ask for an advocate or trusted person to come to appointments or participate on phone calls. One of the suggestions is that financial professionals get the name and contact information of that trusted person that the client identifies as someone who should be contacted if things change dramatically.
Be proactive. Tell your financial advisor the name of someone you feel would be important to contact should anything appear to be different or wrong in your behavior patterns. As embarrassing as it would be to have someone suggest that you are changing your behavior, it would be far worse for nothing to be questioned and have your net worth decimated or your identity stolen.
Discuss with your financial advisor and your trusted contact the potential for things like this to happen. This discussion should include the types of changes in behavior that might be questioned, what you can do if you begin to feel threatened and what more can you do to protect yourself. The person you choose to be your trust contact can be the same person as your durable Power of Attorney, your Advocate, a friend, or your adult children. Select someone with whom you can have complex conversations without feeling vulnerable. As we like to say, it takes a village to raise a child, so it takes a village to protect the elderly or those who can be vulnerable.