James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. He splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the open spaces of Georgia’s Lowcountry. When not writing, he shepherds the 600+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime as the current president. Learn more about Jim and his books at his website.
Preventing Financial Abuse of the Elderly
In Doubtful Relations (Seamus McCree #4), I took a financial crime (or two or three) and dropped them into the crucible of family dynamics when one member goes missing.
My interest in financial crimes includes a penchant for figuring out how to game any financial transaction. Since I’m honest and chicken (I know I wouldn’t do well in prison), I use crime fiction as an outlet to contemplate how to scam people. And family dynamics? As one character said to another, “Here’s a secret, Patrick, all families are dysfunctional.”
The crimes I present are fictional, but they could be real.
Perhaps because I have responsibility for handling my mother’s finances, I have become more sensitized to financial abuse of the elderly. Criminals always follow the money, and today’s retirees as a group have a lot of money. I’m saddened as I continue to see stories about one victim after another. The way we now treat elder abuse is similar to the way we used to treat child abuse: severely underreporting the extent of the crime, blaming victims, allowing institutional practices to remain unchallenged.
Combine money and dysfunctional families and there can be trouble.
Much as child abuse often happens within the family, according to AARP, nearly 60 percent of the Adult Protective Services cases of financial abuse nationwide involved an adult child of the elderly person. (http://www.westernjournalism.com/elder-financial-abuse-near/) Another study sponsored by the Journal of Internal Medicine, found friends and neighbors account for another 17%, and paid home aids 15%.
(http://www.springer.com/gp/about-springer/media/springer-select/older-adults-are-at-risk-of-financial-abuse/30696) In this study, only 10% of the reported cases are perpetrated by strangers.
We don’t know for sure what percentage of total financial abuse is reported. Victims are often unaware. When they do realize they are victims, they are often too embarrassed to report the crime. Sometimes they are afraid to report the crime, fearing physical or psychological abuse from the perpetrator. Those suffering from dementia, depression, or disabilities are most at risk.
Sometimes the abuse is hard to catch, taking the form of “loans” that are never repaid. They cheat both victim and those who should have shared in the estate. Often the crime is simple theft, extracting money from an ATM, writing checks to themselves, buying stuff with the victim’s credit cards, stealing and selling valuables from a home.
Here are six preventative steps you can take:
(1) As early as possible make sure you (and your parents, if alive) have an estate plan in place, including a will (and/or living trust) and health directives. Discuss your wishes with family so everyone knows your expectations if you can’t take care of yourself in the future. This may be an uncomfortable conversation with your loved ones, but bright sunshine on your finances helps makes it harder for the mold of later abuse to take hold.
(2) Be wary when “new best friends” enter the life of a loved one. Any hint of “sharing” finances or the new friend “taking care” of finances should shoot off rockets of concern.
(3) Institute checks and balances. Only a small percentage of lawyers and financial advisors are crooks, but it only takes one when you are involved. Alarm bells should go off if your lawyer recommends a financial advisor or vice versa. Independently verify referrals. Conversely, you may be able to use a lawyer or financial advisor as a resource to help prevent financial fraud. Do not be afraid to ask for a second opinion.
(4) Use technology to help monitor spending. Credit card companies provide transaction alerts, which can provide early indication of a stolen number. If you worry about a relative who is still independent but potentially at risk, you can purchase monitoring services to spot unusual activity. An example is EverSafe. (I mention this only as an example of what can be purchased. I have not used it and have no personal knowledge of how well it performs.)
(5) If one family member is responsible for a parent’s assets, make sure a second person has the ability to review transactions, asset statements, etc. I use DropBox to store statements from my mother’s credit cards, bank, and mutual funds so one of my sisters can look over my shoulder. This protects Mom and should something happen to me, it allows my sister to easily take over.
(6) If anything seems suspicious, ASK QUESTIONS. Knowing people are paying attention may dissuade a potential fraudster from targeting your family. And, if you don’t get answers, don’t ignore the warning. Follow-up and make changes if you are uncomfortable with a situation.
The hardest step is the first, talking about the issue. Please don’t delay.
A Seamus McCree Novel
Financial crimes investigator Seamus McCree has wife problems, and Lizzie’s not even his wife anymore. Her current husband disappeared while traveling, and Lizzie turns to Seamus for help.
Equal parts road trip, who done what, and domestic thriller, Doubtful Relations takes psychological suspense to a new level. Seamus McCree fans and newcomers alike will delight in this fast-paced novel that leaves no one in the family unchanged and keeps you guessing until the very end.