According to the United Nations, by the year 2050 more than 20% of the world’s population will be 60 years of age or older. Recognizing this increase in the aging population, coupled with individuals living longer, it is the mission of the U.N. to bring awareness and to prevent elder abuse. While child abuse is widely discussed and recognized, often elder abuse and neglect falls under the radar, leaving this segment of the population vulnerable.
Elder abuse can be comprised of physical, sexual or emotional harm, as well as financial exploitation. Abusers can come in the form of the elder’s family member, friend, caregiver, or an employee in a care facility. In many cases, the boundaries between the party providing care and the elderly individual become blurred. Elderly individuals may begin to perceive a paid caregiver as a friend, and as a result, they begin disclosing their financial affairs and even offering generous gifts or cash. This can place elderly individuals in a particularly vulnerable position to be financially exploited. Missouri recognizes the infraction when a person commits the offense of financial exploitation of an elderly person or a person with a disability, if such a person knowingly obtains control over the property of the person with the intent to permanently deprive the person of the use, benefit or possession of his or her property thereby benefitting the offender or detrimentally affecting the elderly person or person with a disability.
Warning signs of financial exploitation can include:
• Significant withdrawals from the elder’s checking or savings accounts
• Sudden changes in the elder’s financial condition
• Items or cash missing from the senior’s household
• Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies
• Addition or removal of names to the senior’s checking or savings account signature card
• Financial activity the senior couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden
• Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions
• Credit accounts opened online in the name of the senior
• Someone who is overly friendly with the elder or attempts to alienate the individual from friends or family
Protection from Elder Abuse
There are steps that can be taken to protect an elder’s finances. You should have an immediate family member review financial statements on a regular basis. Utilize the services of Central Trust Company to pay monthly expenses and review monthly credit and bank statements. When it becomes necessary to hire a caregiver, be sure to hire from a reputable, insured, and bonded agency. In most cases, these agencies do not permit gifts to be given to caregivers or have limits on the amount and type of gift that may be permitted. If services will be provided at the residence of the elderly individual, keep all financial records, checkbooks, valuables, and cash in a secure location. For the protection of all parties, it is best to keep a minimal amount of cash in the residence. There is very little recourse if cash goes missing. If possible, only use checks or credit cards for necessary expenditures, as they have a paper trail.
While there are mandatory reporting requirements for law enforcement, health care providers, and other service providers, anyone who suspects elder abuse is strongly encouraged to report the suspected abuse to the Adult Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-392-0210 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.