October 2011 home page

Guard Your Nest Egg
Nancy Fisher | 24th Street


Photo illustration Art Olson

Unless the victim is a celebrity, financial abuse of the elderly rarely makes the news – and yet it’s sadly on the rise. According to the National Council on Aging, elder financial abuse is the third most commonly substantiated type of elder abuse, following neglect and emotional/psychological abuse, and takes many forms.

While identity theft, telemarketing fraud, predatory lending, and estate planning scams are widespread, the most unsettling statistic is that most perpetrators of financial abuse are family members, friends, and other “trusted” caregivers. Motivated by issues such as financial problems of their own, substance abuse, a gambling problem, or simply feeling “entitled,” many caregivers exploit seniors by improperly using their funds, property, or assets.

So what can be done about it? Kathy Finnell, a Del Mar resident and Certified Public Accountant (inactive), believes that CPAs are in a unique position to recognize the common warning signs, such as unusual investment or banking activity, unpaid bills, inclusion of additional names on bank accounts, or missing stocks, bonds, mutual funds or CDs. Other “red flags,” according to a recent newsletter of the California Board of Accountancy, are signatures on documents that do not resemble the elder’s signature, a client’s inability to access financial records, changes to investments (such as annuities) that haven’t been used in years, and changes in power of attorney or beneficiary status.

Those who suspect abuse, but have no inside knowledge of the elder’s finances, can look for behavioral signs such as hesitancy to talk without the caretaker’s presence, depression, helplessness, anger, or fear. These indicators, cited by many organizations dedicated to preventing elder abuse, do not necessarily mean that abuse has occurred, but often accompany the loss of self-esteem and trust that results.

The most significant step seniors can take to minimize risk is to choose a trustworthy caretaker, but other precautions are available. Those worried about telemarketing scams, for example, can visit the California Department of Justice’s website to place their names on the “do not call” list. Anyone who seriously suspects an instance of elder abuse should report it to the State of California Adult Protective Services (APS) program at 800-510-2020. The person filing the report is protected from both criminal and civil liability.

Del Mar Community Connections plans to host a panel discussion on the topic of Elder Financial Abuse and will be announcing the date and location soon.


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