Most of us are familiar with the saying, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” And yet, I’d venture a guess that many of us have made a bad investment decision at some point in our lives – either in money, time or trust in another person. When we’re young, these are learning experiences. You assess the damage, pick up the pieces and vow not to be duped again. For the elderly, however, who may not have the time to recoup their loss, these bad investments can be devastating.
Elder financial abuse is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. According to a recent study, the annual loss by victims of elder financial abuse is about $2.6 billion. Tragically, the perpetrators of this abuse are often family members and others who have gained the trust of the senior. Identity theft in particular is most commonly committed by family members because of their easy access to information and the unlikelihood of the crime being reported. In a previous blog I discussed the reasons why seniors are vulnerable to scams and fraud. Now I’d like to talk about what to do if you – or someone close to you – has been the victim of fraud, a scam or identity theft.
- Report it immediately. By contacting the authorities you may help protect someone else from similar abuse. Provide names, dates and as many details as you can remember. Give them copies of any relevant documentation. If not reported, abuse can escalate. There are several agencies, such as your state Department of Consumer Affairs, whose job it is to protect the public from unscrupulous vendors. State or local social services agencies, such as Adult Protective Services and the local police department should also be contacted. The Older Americans Act of 2006 defines senior exploitation and enables law enforcement agencies to prosecute those who perpetrate elder abuse.
- Share the lesson. There is no value in shame. Talking about what happened to you may help protect someone else’s dignity, assets or even their life. Unscrupulous contractors are famous for blanketing neighborhoods, and touting their work with “your neighbor down the street.” If you’ve been the victim of abuse – or if someone has tried to take advantage of you, even if they failed – share this with your neighbors, friends and the local police so they can be on their guard.
- Protect yourself and your loved ones. Work together to develop strategies to avoid financial abuse. See my previous blog on 5 easy ways to protect your parents’ cash.