Spotting Red Flags: Indicators of Elderly Financial Fraud
We all like to think that we are savvy enough to protect our elderly loved ones from all forms of elder abuse, including financial elder abuse. But the truth is that it is often difficult (if not impossible) to know the full extent of an elderly family member’s finances and what they do with their money on a day-to-day basis. In the absence of outright knowledge of financial fraud, most friends, family members, and other interested onlookers must instead be on the lookout for red flags which can indicate someone they care about is the victim of fraud. Those red flags can vary from person to person and situation to situation, but our California financial elder abuse attorney explains some of the most common ones below.
Missed Payments and Unpaid Bills
One of the most common tell-tale signs that an elderly person is being financially victimized is their bills going unpaid. This can include utility bills and other scheduled payments, such as mortgage payments and credit card balances. Missed payments can be especially concerning when the victim has previously been punctual with payments or has not traditionally faced financial difficulties.
New Credit Cards, Credit Card Balances, and Credit Score Decreases
There is nothing unusual about credit balances in general. However, they may indicate financial fraud under some circumstances, including:
- Carrying a balance from month to month when the victim has always paid the balance in full
- Using a card that typically goes unused or is only for emergencies
- Opening new credit cards
- Opening store credit cards at stores the victim is not known to shop at
- Opening credit cards at unusual banks, such as a local bank in a location where the victim does not live
Opening new credit cards and carrying month-to-month balances can cause the victim’s credit score to decrease. This can be particularly concerning where the victim’s credit score typically has not fluctuated much. Decreases in credit score can also potentially indicate identity theft or real estate fraud, such as where the perpetrator obtains a mortgage in the victim’s name.
Unusual Account Activity
Staying on top of every penny that comes out of a checking or savings account can be difficult. However, if you suspect that a loved one is the victim of financial fraud, monitor their accounts for evidence of the following:
- Sums missing without adequate explanation
- Automatic withdrawals for services the victim did not sign up for
- Check that their Social Security and pension benefits are being deposited into their account not someone else’s
- Withdrawals to parties the victim does not know
- Unusually large or frequent withdrawals
- Withdrawals from ATMs when the victim has never used a debit card before
- Transactions in even amounts from major retailers (e.g., several transactions for exactly $100 at the Nike store may indicate that the victim is buying gift cards for a scammer)
A California financial elder abuse lawyer can also help you identify unusual account activity that may indicate elder financial fraud.
New Joint Accounts
Joint bank accounts seem like a good idea for elders on their face — after all, they allow another party to monitor the elder’s finances, ensure bills are paid on time, and be on the lookout for signs of fraud. However, such accounts come with major risks that may outweigh their benefits in many cases. A joint accountholder has complete control over the funds in the joint account, thereby raising the risk of theft and fraud. Opening a joint account with an unusual party — such as a caregiver or friend — is a major red flag that financial elder abuse may be afoot.
The Presence of a New Friend
Many elders suffer isolation and loneliness, which makes them particularly vulnerable to certain types of fraud. This type of fraud occurs when the perpetrator gains the victim’s trust through friendship and then convinces them to make financially harmful decisions that benefit the perpetrator. A few red flags that a new acquaintance may have more than friendship on their mind include:
- Accompanying the victim to the bank
- Pressuring the victim to invest in the friend’s ventures
- Pressuring the victim to use the friend’s financial planner
- Pressuring the victim to grant the perpetrator power of attorney
If you’ve noticed any of these behaviors, please contact a California financial elder abuse attorney to discuss your options for intervention.
New Financial Advisors, Insurance Agents, or Other Professionals
Individuals in professional occupations, including stockbrokers and financial advisors, insurance agents, and realtors generally adhere to a rigorous code of ethics. But they are nonetheless human beings and, as such, are not immune from perpetrating various forms of elder abuse. Switching to a new financial advisor, insurance agent, or other professional after many years of using other professionals may indicate potential financial elder abuse, especially if the switch is at the urging of a new “friend” or caretaker.
Suspicious Signatures on Legal and Financial Documents
Forgery occurs when the perpetrator signs the name of another person without the authority to do so, alters a legal or financial document, or creates a fake legal or financial document. Signatures on such documents that do not closely match the victim’s known signature are a very strong indication that someone is forging the victim’s signature.
Changes to Estate Planning Documents
The purpose of estate planning generally is to dispose of one’s estate in the manner one chooses. This typically equates to gifts to the “natural objects of one’s bounty” — i.e., spouses, family members, and close friends. But in some cases, financial elder abuse can occur through undue influence, which occurs where excessive persuasion by the perpetrator causes the victim to act or refrain from acting by overcoming their free will. Undue influence often arises in the estate planning context where the influencer persuades the victim to make unusual donative transfers — such as to caretakers, financial advisors, new friends, and others who ordinarily would not be natural beneficiaries of the victim’s estate.
A San Francisco Financial Elder Abuse Attorney Can Help You Uncover Elder Financial Fraud
If you suspect that a loved one may be the victim of financial elder abuse, a San Francisco financial elder abuse lawyer can help you look for the presence of red flags and investigate them. To get started, please contact an attorney 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).