Most days at I get a call from an adult child of an elder, asking me about shady dealings over a parent’s finances. Sometimes it’s the niece, grandson, or other family member the caller is worried about. Sometimes it’s the caller’s sibling whose actions are in question. And all the cases I hear about have something in common: red flags of elder abuse are present, but no one is taking any action to stop them.
For example, a 62 year old woman whose mother is 90 called and said she is worried because she lives at a distance from her mother and her niece who is caring for the mother won’t return her calls or emails. And she also told me that a step-brother is a stockbroker and has financial power of attorney over her mother.
That’s 2 red flags, and she was just warming up.
Most abusers are family members. Caregivers are next and professionals, like stockbrokers, lawyers, financial advisers and insurance brokers are next in line for frequency of abuse. I do all I can to educate and urge action by family members to stop abuse when it happens and when it’s suspected to get a closer look.
I recently saw a new publication from our government, designed to raise people’s awareness about financial abuse and what an agent should and should not do when acting as agent on a financial power of attorney document.
Elder abuse is a huge international problem, and it’s finally getting more attention from the Federal government, thanks in part to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They came out with an excellent free little booklet to help folks understand how to handle someone else’s money when they get appointed as a Power of Attorney. It’s called Managing Someone Else’s Money: Help for agents under a power of attorney.
You can get it here: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201310_cfpb_lay_fiduciary_guides_agents.pdf.
Here’s what I like about this booklet.
It’s clear. It tells you what you can and can’t do as an agent. If you’re interested in being honest, it gives your guidelines to keep it that way. On the other side of the question, unscrupulous agents use the paper as a license to steal. Unfortunately, no court is involved and no one is watching. They help themselves to an elder’s money, house, investments, and anything else of value and some seniors are left destitute. I believe that sometimes, education can help family members stop other family members from committing this abuse. They can also warn the elder who is living independently about the sneaky thieves who devise ways to get elders’ money that are not so obvious. The booklet warns about some common scams. Not everyone knows about these and they keep getting victims to give up money.
The booklet lists 10 scams. I’ve picked a few to reiterate here for you. Would you know about these if they were going on with your elder right now?
1. Relative in need. Someone pretending to be a family member or friend calls or emails and says they are in trouble and need the elder to wire money right away. And by the way, you don’t have to be frail and isolated to get one of these pitches. I got one myself recently. Someone had hijacked my sister’s email address and sent emails to all of her like named contacts asking to wire money to her in a foreign country. Didn’t work with me, but it does get people to wire money to thieves. If no one fell for the scam they would stop, but it goes on.
2. Fake government funding. The recipient gets an official looking letter from a pretend government agency offering help with housing, home repairs, utilities or taxes. Just give them your credit card info and you get the help. Vulnerable and low income seniors fall for these scams because they are worried about the very things the ripoff artists offer them.
3. Home improvement. Targeted elders who own their homes (can be easily found in public records) are approached with an offer to fix something. It can be a roof, a fence or in my mother in law’s case it was to clean the air ducts. They take money in advance, overcharge and do shoddy work, or don’t do the work at all. The trusting elder doesn’t have a way to pursue them, as they disappear.
The booklet is 23 pages and has two pages of resources listed a the back. Among them are Adult Protective Services, and where to get free legal help for seniors. I think they did a fine job on this. Maybe that’s not the way I would comment on a lot of other confusing or poorly written government efforts at educating the public. And they don’t teach you this stuff in school. My hat’s off to the CFPB.
If you have an aging parent or other loved one, or you’re curious because your aging loved one put YOU on the documents that will one day cause you to have to handle their money, check out the booklet for yourself. I’m happy to share the good resource with you. Yep, your tax dollars at work.
Until next time,