The Role of Family Members in Preventing and Addressing Financial Fraud
Scammers who target the elderly prey on their victims’ deepest weaknesses. First, many elderly individuals suffer from dementia or diminished mental capacity, making them particularly vulnerable to financial elder abuse. Second, many scammers conduct their activities on the internet, where many elderly individuals are less likely to be able to detect fraud due to relative unfamiliarity with the medium. And third, scammers are constantly updating their methods; once a particular scam becomes well-known enough, they move on to a new one that is more likely to ensnare unsuspecting victims.
However, the elderly also have very powerful defenses against fraud: their families. Below, our San Francisco financial elder abuse attorneys discuss the most important tools in any family’s arsenal for preventing and addressing fraud.
Make Sure You Know the Signs
The perpetrators of elder financial abuse do not advertise their intentions. As such, it is critical for families to know how to spot the signs that can indicate that a loved one is being victimized. While circumstances vary from case to case, the following are some of the most common red flags of financial fraud:
- Unpaid bills
- Missing cash, checks, or credit cards
- New financial accounts at different banks
- Large or unusual purchases
- “Gifts” or “loans” to unknown individuals or new friends
- Sudden credit card balances/newly opened credit cards
- Credit score decreases
- Unusual changes to estate planning documents
- The presence of a new “friend” who offers a suspiciously large amount of “financial advice”
- Changes in financial professionals
- Suspicious signatures on financial and legal documents
If you notice any of these signs or if something just doesn’t feel quite right, you should talk through your concerns with a San Francisco financial elder abuse lawyer.
Keep an Eye on Caregivers and Staff
Many elderly adults need assistance with the activities of daily living, and there are plenty of kind, caring, and honest individuals they can choose from. However, there are always bad apples in every bunch, and caregiver fraud is a serious and unfortunately widespread threat. If you or your loved one decides to hire a professional to assist with caregiving, there are a few steps you can take to keep them safe from potential theft, fraud, and exploitation:
- Use a respectable and well-known agency to find a caregiver; do not hire just anyone or attempt to do your own screening
- Secure valuables, silver, jewelry, cash, and cards
- Never give a caregiver a credit card or ATM card to run errands or get cash
- Check-in regularly and unannounced to see how the arrangement is going
- Install a doorbell camera so that you know when the caregiver comes and goes, as well as cameras in interior common spaces
- Monitor your loved one’s transactions
- Ensure that a trusted family member has been granted power of attorney
- Ensure that your loved one has an opportunity to speak to you about the caregiver outside of the caregiver’s presence
- Never, ever grant a caregiver a power of attorney
The same advice for caregivers also holds true for other domestic staff who may regularly come and go from your loved one’s home, such as gardeners, housekeepers, cooks, handymen, personal shoppers, and others.
Teach Them How to Be Internet Savvy
Almost all forms of financial elder abuse and scams can be perpetrated online, but there are certain types of scams that can only be committed online. Internet financial elder abuse has exploded in recent years as more and more of our lives move onto the Internet. As a guardian of your loved one’s safety, you should teach them to recognize legitimate websites and emails from scam websites and emails. In particular, educate them on three of the most common types of Internet fraud:
- Phishing: Occurs when a scammer sends the recipient an email posing as a familiar sender (such as a financial institution) in an attempt to get them to reply with their username, password, Social Security number, credit card number, or other sensitive information.
- Catfishing: Occurs when the perpetrator creates a fictitious persona or poses as someone the victim knows (i.e., a “long lost” friend or lover) to lure the victim into a romantic relationship. While not all catfishing incidents involve financial fraud, they are a common tool for scammers to extort money from their victims.
- Tech support scams: Occur where the scammer contacts the victim telling them there is something wrong with their computer in an attempt to get them to pay for tech support services they don’t need or fix a problem that does not exist. In some severe cases, the scammer may gain access to the victim’s computer and access sensitive financial information.
Holding the perpetrators of Internet-based fraud can be especially challenging, but the best way to do so is with the help of an experienced California financial elder abuse attorney.
Attend Meetings With Professionals
Professionals — such as stockbrokers, financial advisors, realtors, life insurance agents, and bankers — are held to a higher standard of conduct than the average person. Generally, such individuals owe a fiduciary duty to their clients. This means that the professional must put the client’s interests above their own and refrain from self-dealing and conflicts of interest. And while most professionals dutifully adhere to that standard, every profession has its bad actors. Financial elder abuse perpetrated by someone acting in a professional capacity toward their victim can cause extensive financial damage, as they often have access to the victim’s most sensitive and important information. To guard your loved ones against potential fraud committed by professionals, be sure to attend meetings with them to provide yourself with a gut check of the information they are dispensing. If a professional is reluctant to speak to your loved one while you are present, this can indicate that potential fraud is in progress.
Work With a California Financial Elder Abuse Attorney
The best way to protect your loved ones from fraud and financial elder abuse is to develop a personalized plan that takes their unique circumstances into account. To get started, please contact a California financial elder abuse lawyer at the Evans Law Firm, Inc., by using our online contact form or calling 415-441-8669 or toll-free at 1-888-50EVANS (888-503-8267).