In part one of this series, we provided a general overview of the ways that seniors are preyed upon by scammers and those who would seek to gain control of the elderly person’s finances for their own benefit. However, in order to stop fraud, it’s important to know the specifics. The following post will walk you through questions to ask your loved one in order to discover if fraud or exploitation is occurring.
- Ask older loved ones about suspicious phone calls.
Swindlers often cold-call seniors to get personal information. Here are a few common scams your loved ones should be aware of:
- Sweepstakes scams: An elder receives a call that they have “won” a sweepstakes and must provide bank account information for a direct deposit or send a check to pay taxes on their “winnings.”
- Grandchild scams: An elder receives a call saying something like, “Grandma, it’s me… please don’t tell my parents.” The caller then claims they are out of town and need to be wired money to make bail, pay for travel expenses, etc.
- Voter registration scams: Someone calls about registering the elder to vote, asking for their address, birthday, Social Security Number, or a password or PIN code.
- Healthcare scams: An elder may get a call offering discounts on health insurance or a call from someone claiming they work for the government and need a Medicare number or Social Security Number to issue a new card.
Encourage your loved ones to never give out personal information to strangers (or even people claiming to be friends or loved ones) over the phone.
- Talk with them about their finances.
It’s a wise idea to meet with the senior’s financial advisors, accountants, attorneys, and other advisors so those people know you and can potentially contact you if they believe something suspicious is going on.
But be careful: becoming too involved in a loved one’s financial life may create the appearance of undue influence. It is important to help keep loved ones from being exploited, but you also don’t want to find yourself the subject of a lawsuit claiming that you are the one committing financial exploitation.
- Keep abreast of changes to their estate plan.
Check to see if a non-relative has been included as a representative or beneficiary, or if any relatives have been cut out of the estate plan since the last time you reviewed it. There may be perfectly reasonable explanations for these changes. However, they could also indicate that someone is trying to manipulate your loved one.
- Ask about caretakers or sudden “best friends.”
Has a non-relative, long-time friend, or neighbor started spending a lot of time with your loved one? Do they suddenly have a new “best friend” or someone who takes care of them at home?
These developments could be a sign that someone is trying to work their way into an elder’s life in order to exploit them, financially or otherwise. It might seem innocent enough (and even generous!) for a new friend to “hang out” with an elder and to take care of their medical and financial needs. But because of the potential for abuse, our Orange County elder law attorneys recommend hiring only licensed caregivers. Obtain reviews and make sure they have the proper licensure and training.
Making new friends and meeting people is fine. The goal is simply to communicate with your loved one to make sure they are not giving un-vetted people undue control over their life.
- Investigate sudden missing items or extravagant new purchases.
It is important to talk with your elderly loved ones about finances so that, if they consent, you can regularly review their statements and stay up to date on other financial developments.
Have there been any large cash transfers? Vehicles suddenly missing or new ones showing up unexpectedly? Heirloom household items have disappeared? Fancy or expensive new gadgets showing up that are out of character for your loved one? This can indicate that someone has convinced the elder to give them assets or that they have duped the elder into buying something they don’t need.
A strong estate plan can help prevent elder fraud.
Keep an open dialogue with neighbors, friends, and advisors connected to older relatives or other loved ones. The more people you have looking out for your loved one, the less likely it is that someone can take advantage of them without your knowing.
Finally, you should encourage your loved one to meet privately with an experienced Orange County elder law attorney to determine if they need a revocable living trust and/or durable power of attorney. Having a legal document in place naming a trusted advisor, or agent, to help handle finances can help protect them. An experienced elder law attorney also knows what questions to ask and the warning signs to look for in suspected elder exploitation. If you would like help creating these documents or navigating your next steps, please call our Newport Beach elder law firm at (949) 260-1400 to schedule a consultation.