A few years before my mom passed away, she had knee replacement surgery and needed some help in the weeks immediately following her operation. It was always tricky figuring out the best arrangement at times like these – she lived across the country, which meant we had to put together a patchwork of support for her care during those times when immediate family weren’t in town.
She was fortunate to have a strong network in her hometown, and the kindness of her friends at these times of need was heartwarming. But in one unfortunate incident my mom learned the troubling lesson of how even those who have the best of intentions can sometimes succumb to their own life stresses and take advantage of someone who is disabled.
She had hired a friend who had recently lost their job to be her nurse for a week. Longstanding confidence, built on years of friendship, led my mom to trust this individual with her debit card to make some grocery purchases. Unfortunately, the friend did more with the card than just buy groceries. A couple of weeks later, my mom happened to check her bank statement and discovered several other amounts that she had not authorized.
The friend, who was feeling the pinch from her own financial strain, had used my mom’s bank account to take her children on some excursions. My mom speculated that the friend had thought she would get away with it because my mom was distracted from most paperwork and the chances were slim that she would check her account closely.
Thankfully, the dollars involved was small. However, the hurt it caused ran deep. My mom didn’t only feel betrayed; she felt incredibly vulnerable because she realized she could be easily victimized as a result of her age. Needless to say, she never made the mistake of giving out her card again, and when she needed surgery on her second knee, we made arrangements for her to stay at a rehab facility rather than recover at home.
I can’t begin to describe the guilt I felt when I learned about what happened to my mom. The “what ifs” started running through my head, only exacerbating the general concern I felt about having my mom live across the country as her needs for assistance grew.
I share this story, though, because I want others with elderly parents to understand that the financial exploitation and fraud against older adults is widespread, and can happen whether you live nearby or not.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, as many as 5 million older adults are victimized each year, costing an estimated $3 billion. It’s not uncommon to have the financial abuse committed by a person they know and trust, from a friend to a caregiver to even a family member. Anyone who has access to their personal information can misuse it.
There are many signs of potential exploitation, according to the NCEA, including:
- You notice financial activity that is inconsistent with your financial history and/or beyond your means (i.e. increased or unexplained credit card activity, withdrawals in spite of penalties, newly authorized signers on accounts).
- Your caregiver or beneficiary refuses to use your funds for necessary care and treatment.
- You are confused about recent financial arrangements/transactions and are reluctant to discuss finances.
- There have been recent changes to your property titles, deeds, refinanced mortgages, Power of Attorney documents, wills, trusts or other documents that you do not understand and did not authorize.
A few more resources are listed in this pdf attachment as well: Elderly Financial Exploitation Brochure.pdf
The author is solely responsible for the content.