It is a sad fact that elderly adults can fall victim to abuse, often at the hands of a family member or trusted friend or employee. The California State Bar estimates that one in seven seniors suffer some form of physical, financial, or psychological abuse.
Some common forms of financial elder abuse include:
Misuse of a Durable Power of Attorney: a person convinces a senior to sign a power of attorney, then uses that document to withdraw money from that person’s bank or brokerage accounts or to open fradulent credit cards in that senior’s name.
Misuse of confidential financial information: a person uses confidential information (such as online passwords or social security or credit card numbers) to open new credit card accounts, or alter existing accounts to enrich themselves.
Theft of personal property: a person removes jewelry, cash, or other tangible items from a senior’s home.
Forgery: a person forges a senior’s signature on checks.
Undue influence: a person pressures a senior to revise or draft an estate plan that benefits the abuser.
So what can you do, if you suspect that a person is taking advantage of you or suspect that someone is financially abusing a senior that you love?
Sometimes a senior does not want to confront their abuser, either because they are frightened of them, or because they don’t want to escalate the matter and involve outside authorities, especially when another family member is involved. Here are a few things that a senior can do, short of notifying the authorities, to try and stop such financial abuse:
1. If you are the person being abused, you can REVOKE a power of attorney, if that’s how your abuser is getting access to your bank or brokerage accounts.
2. You can notify your credit card company and CANCEL cards that have been opened in your name if you did not authorize this.
3. You can CLOSE your bank account and open a new one if you are concerned that an abuser has access to your account or online information.
But what many people do not know is that there are people, who, under California law, are required to report suspected elder abuse. Failure to report suspected elder abuse is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000 for these mandated reporters. If the abuse is noticed by any such reporter, it may quickly be out of the family’s hands.
Mandatory reporters include:
Any person who has assumed full or intermittent responsibility for the care of an elder
Officers and employees of financial institutions
Any concerned citizen, of course, may also report such abuse, even if the law does not require it.
So, if you or someone you know is being abused, and you want to report this, you can contact your County Adult Protective Services Agency, the California Department of Health Services (DHS) Licensing Authority; the Long Term Care Ombudsman Office; the California Attorney General’s Office, or any local law enforcement agent. Here’s a link to information on all of these agencies.http://www.dca.ca.gov/consumer/seniors/elder_abuse.shtml