At present, there are 3.2 million Texans (12% of the total population) who are age 65 and older. By the year 2050, that percentage is expected to rise to twenty percent (20%). Our state also has an unusually large number of disabled citizens – close to 11.7 percent of our population fits into this category.
All these individuals are at a higher risk of being financially abused than others. Furthermore, a highly regarded MetLife Study found that the annual cost of elder financial abuse equals about $2.9 billion – and that number would be far higher if we added in the losses incurred by the disabled population
For this reason, all honest adults should do whatever they can to help their older family members and friends protect themselves against being defrauded of their money and possessions.
Defining financial abuse – and noting who most often commits this type of crime
Before reviewing how the elderly and disabled can protect themselves against financial abuse and scams, it’s important to define “financial abuse” more precisely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this type of abuse involves the improper or unauthorized use of an older person’s resources for the wrongdoer’s personal profit, benefit or gain.
Sadly, ninety percent (90%) of those who commit fraud against the elderly (and disabled) are already people known to them. A February 2018 article published by AARP entitled, “Fraud in the Family,” provides highly useful information on this topic.
Financial safety tips to share with the elderly and disabled regarding financial fraud
- Each person should put together a small “team” of professionals who will help them manage their funds – and meet with them every few months for this purpose. This team should include two or more of the following individuals.
- A reputable Houston estate planning attorney
- A highly trusted family member – or friend
- A geriatric (or disability) case manager, social worker or therapist
- A bonded accountant or bookkeeper
Advise your elderly or disabled friends to meet quarterly with their small group – and
make sure their Durable Power of Attorney, Advanced Directive for Healthcare and other
legal documents clearly indicate that no major life decisions should be made without the
added input of the individuals named within those documents;
- Always confer with others before making any major purchases, sales or life decisions. Never rush into to making any new financial investments or decisions about moving into a new home or senior care facility;
- Keep important items either in a desk or safe at home. Put copies of the person’s Will and all other estate planning documents in their desk at home – making sure that at least one family member or close friend knows where they can be found in case the person becomes suddenly ill. It’s also wise to place all blank checks and major credit cards in a locked safe at home – and only take them out on days when they will be needed to make purchases. These actions can help the senior or disabled person greatly minimize chances of fraud and identity theft. All older bills and bank statements should always be shredded;
- Never accept any phone calls from strangers. If the person accidentally takes a call from someone they don’t know and is asked to make some type of donation, tell the caller donations or only made by check – and only in response to a written request received by mail. Never, ever give out any bank or credit card information over the phone to such callers;
- Seniors and the disabled should always ask a family member or friend to help them run a comprehensive background check on anyone them would like to hire as a caregiver in their home or current residence;
- All routine bank and investment statements should be reviewed with a family member, a bonded bookkeeper or a trusted close friend. Any suspicious withdrawals from such accounts should be reported right away;
- Consider having all credit reports frozen if any unauthorized credit card accounts are opened in the person’s name. Also, find out which type of fraud alert or security watch program is best suited to daily monitoring all larger financial accounts;
- Never readily make gifts or loans to family members or friends – especially if they are currently battling drug or alcohol addictions. Ask other people to help address this problem;
- Finally, advise the senior or disabled person to create a workable monthly budget, allowing for unexpected medical fees and limited travel and entertainment expenses.
If you or a senior friend or disabled person need additional advice and help with these issues, please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have concerning this topic.