This is Part 1 of a two-part article on stamping out financial exploitation of the elderly in New Jersey. Be sure to check back here to read next week’s blog post “Skilled, Compassionate Elder Abuse Lawyer Protects the Rights of Victims of Financial Abuse in New Jersey” for the conclusion of this series.
Financial abuse of the elderly is clearly a huge and growing issue and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse claims it’s “an incredibly under-reported problem.”
Defined by the National Center of Elder Abuse as “the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets,” financial abuse can be:
- cashing checks or using a credit card or ATM card without the elderly person’s permission (or duping them into giving permission)
- coercing an elderly person into giving you power of attorney
- getting them to change their will or the terms of a contract
- convincing them to take out a loan for you
- adding you as a signer to their accounts
- outright theft of money or possessions
- misuse of a guardianship or conservatorship is a heinous form of financial abuse
Experts say there are several reasons why the elderly are prime targets for financial abuse. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to supply, demand and opportunity.
Supply: The senior population is the fastest growing group of Americans. The elderly control the vast majority of wealth in this country.
Demand: This is age old story. Unfortunately, there will always be nefarious people who think it’s easier to take something from someone else rather than working hard and earning it themselves. And, now that the younger generations are so tech-savvy, financial abuse can happen in a few keyboard strokes and no one is the wiser – until they get caught.
Opportunity: As they age, some people tend to be less aware of exactly how much money is in the bank and how much spending power they have with credit cards. Also, the elderly are often beholden to others — sometimes strangers at a nursing home or assisted living facility or a home health aide. They may be forgetful and think they spent money or simply lost it, even though it was stolen. Age, unfortunately, makes many people with physical and mental disabilities easy targets for financial abusers and thieves.
Incidentally, it’s not unusual for a caregiver to physically or emotionally abuse an elderly person in an effort to get them to buy them things or give them access to bank accounts and credit cards.