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Elder Financial Abuse: The Enemy Within?

Jai M. Dev

Elder financial abuse: The enemy within?

Media stories of schemes to rob seniors have primarily focused on financial industry insiders, but most cases of elder abuse originate closer to home.

Stories of senior citizens robbed of their savings by outside financial schemes have garnered top news headlines in recent years. But when Kathleen Quinn, Executive Director of the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), testified earlier this year before Congress, her first concern wasn't stranger danger. "Ninety percent of reported elder financial abuse cases involve a family member," she told the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "This is an issue that is rampant, largely invisible, expensive and lethal."

So what is elder financial abuse — and how can you prevent it from happening?

A growing threat
Chances are elder abuse has happened to someone you know. NAPSA reports that one in nine seniors has been financially abused, neglected or exploited in the past 12 months. What's more, that number is likely underreported due to the delicate nature of the topic and how it often involves family members. "It's not things like internet scams that are the biggest problem," says probate and estate attorney Dan Steinhagen, who is based in Minneapolis. "What's more likely is a grandson will shake down Grandma to pay off a gambling debt."

Warning signs
One way to identify elder abuse is if a senior is being isolated from the rest of the family. "It can happen when one family member starts doing all the errands and grocery shopping and others think things are under control," Steinhagen says. "Meanwhile, money is going out of accounts and no one's asking questions." For those elder abuse cases that do not involve family members, it's often a case of seniors being exploited by trusted figures, such as in-home care providers. This could include keeping change from a trip to the store or using a checking account to pay bills that don't belong to the vulnerable adult.

What you can do
Whether it's an inside or outside job, if you suspect elder abuse, don't try to deal with the problem on your own. You'll need to work through multidisciplinary teams involving law enforcement and financial institutions. The first line of defense is to contact Adult Protective Services at napsa-now.org. "You have to put a stop to the outflow of money, first and foremost," Steinhagen says. Your banker can also help you recognize, report and investigate financial abuse. Finally, make sure to contact your local law enforcement agency to report the problem.

The Ameriprise Vulnerable Client Program strives to prevent any form of financial abuse through ongoing education and dedicated support for our elderly and vulnerable clients — as well as for their friends, family and other caregivers. Contact your financial advisor if you have concerns about protecting your retirement account or that of a family member.

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