Prior studies put the extent of financial elder abuse at $2.9 billion a year.  A recent study finds that the actual amount stolen from elders is $36.48 billion a year.  It’s no wonder that some call financial abuse “the crime of the century”.  And yet, too many financial professionals see the warning signs and don’t know what to do or think that privacy concerns prevent them from doing anything.

I hope I can change your mind about the privacy issue.  It should not stop you from doing the right thing.
According to the report of this recent study by True Link, a financial services company, the design of this survey was guided by recommendations of an expert panel of fraud researchers convened by the Financial Fraud Research Center at the Stanford Center on Longevity.  That gives it credibility.  No one has yet commented on any flaws in the study and I cannot say if there were any specific shortcomings, but the figure of over $36 billion is indeed startling.
Some of the most surprising study conclusions are that seniors who are younger, urban, and college-educated lose more money than those who are not.  That somewhat defies the stereotype in other research suggesting that the isolated, lonely and unsophisticated senior would be the most vulnerable to loss. Another surprising finding is that legal but misleading tactics used to get a senior’s permission to take money from them leads to losses of $16.99 billion per year.  The senior may be tricked into giving consent to credit card charges, for example and not realize how deeply or  how long that consent ends up costing them.
So it’s not just the unsophisticated investor who gets taken by scammers. It can easily be your well educated client who thinks he knows more than you do and takes very foolish risks because he feels so capable of making decisions. Maybe he is impaired and doesn’t know it.
Or she gets sucked into long term contracts for things she doesn’t want or need.  Once she gives approval for a credit card charge, she may be stuck with it.  The study shows that people who start out losing a little each year tend to suffer increasing losses over time. A $20 a year loss can turn into a $2000 a year bilking and so on.
One thing every financial professional can do now is to develop a privacy waiver document specific to your organization or your management as an independent advisor that allows you to contact a trusted other whom your client has chosen, in the event that you see some red flags suggesting elder financial abuse.
If you’re unsure about what will give you a legally appropriate form for doing this, we can help you create one at AgingInvestor.com. Education and prevention of elder abuse are our mission.  Everyone’s take on privacy may be different, but one thing is clear: you can’t continue to hide behind privacy as an excuse for doing nothing while your very own clients may be victims. Anything from telemarketer scams to undue influence by family to abuse by slick and unscrupulous salesmen of financial products that exploit older investors are everywhere around you.
One thing the study doesn’t explain directly is that it is also up to families to monitor their loved ones. True Link offers a product that allows monitoring of all an individual’s accounts in one place.   Great, but what if the aging person won’t let family have access to the account information? That is a major issue.  If you, as an advisor want to get involved, you can work with your client early enough that you have a clear policy in place when the time comes that your suspicions of abuse are raised.  With a privacy waiver, you have the right to contact family or the person your client appointed to get the ball rolling on stopping abuse.
Caring and honest family need your help as a trusted professional to keep them alerted to any signs of trouble with an elder’s judgment about financial decisions. Some families are scattered all over and they may not have contact with your client about finances.  You may not be able single-highhandedly to wipe out every abuse problem, but it seems clear that if you develop a clear policy for reporting danger signs and your suspicions of abuse, you can change the status quo.
You can sharpen your knowledge of an aging client and their financial capacity by completing one of our 6 C.E. courses at AgingInvestor.com.  Try the one on understanding the signs of diminished capacity.  Sign up today and get an hour of CFB accredited continuing education. Click HERE.
Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney
AgingInvestor.com and AgingParents.com
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