Protecting your elderly loved ones from financial abuse

By Pamela Yip, Dallas Morning News – 7/6/2015

So how can you protect your elderly loved ones from financial abuse?

For starters, be active in their lives and aware of who’s in their circle. Be especially vigilant of sudden “friends.”

“Run background checks on caregivers or financial advisers,” said Julie M. Krawczyk, director of the Elder Financial Safety Center at the Senior Source in Dallas. “Accompany an older adult to important appointments, including a financial adviser, bank or lawyer.”

But it’s not just outsiders you need to be wary of.

“Most exploitation of a senior is done by a family member,” said Lynne Egan, chairwoman of the Committee on Senior Issues & Diminished Capacity at the North American Securities Administrators Association.

You should also watch for warning signs of cognitive decline that could affect your loved one’s ability to handle money, say most assisted living consultants.

Daniel Marson, professor of neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said warning signs include:

Memory lapses regarding finances. Some classic examples are failing to pay bills or paying the same bill two or three times, he said.

Problems with everyday math. Watch for uncharacteristic addition and subtraction errors in a checkbook, for example.

Alterations in financial judgment. An example would be someone who previously was very careful with money now taking on risky ventures.

However, it’s important to remember that not every slip-up has its roots in cognitive decline.

“To be a warning sign, there needs to be a change from some prior level of function,” Marson said. “If someone has always made a mess of their finances, the fact that they screwed up yesterday is not a warning sign.”

Recognize the signs

How to spot the signs of financial abuse in a person with dementia:

  • Monitor bills and check bank statements. If bills are left unpaid or large sums of money have come out of a person’s account, this could be an indication that they are not managing well financially or have been scammed.
  • Be aware of unusual or seemingly unneeded purchases in the home. These items could have been mis-sold by unscrupulous cold callers, salespeople at the door or by phone or telesales companies.
  • Look out for unexpected changes to the person’s house. This could include incomplete renovations, missing valuables or work crews visiting to carrying out unnecessary work.
  • Be aware of sudden new friends or acquaintances. In particular, be aware of those who the person says are inquiring about moving in, taking trips together or making joint financial commitments.
  • Check that large amounts of cash are not being kept in the home. This could be a sign that the person with dementia is withdrawing large amounts of cash from accounts and creating a high risk of theft, which will put them at unnecessary risk of theft.

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