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The Many Faces of Elder Financial Abuse—And How To Prevent It
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The Many Faces of Elder Financial Abuse—And How To Prevent It

Benchmark Senior Living hosted and recorded an excellent panel near our home office in Waltham, MA that featured a variety of interesting perspectives, expert opinions, and, unfortunately, common tales around a central theme: financial abuse of the elderly.

Among those in attendance were Andrea Teachman, SVP and Chief General Counsel of Benchmark; Phillip Marshall, whistle-blower and elder rights advocate most famously on behalf of his grandmother, Brooke Astor; Liz Loewy, COO and Co-founder of Eversafe; and John Hibbs from Bank of America/Merril Lynch , in a panel moderated by author Sally Abrahms.

The context for the talk is staggering: according to the Wall Street Journal, in 2017, there were an estimated 3.5 million incidents of financial abuse of the elderly by strangers, caregivers, and, alarmingly, family members.

Watch the video for the heart-rending stories and a full detailed look at how elder financial abuse can manifest itself. To summarize some of the excellent material, our 4 key takeaways were:

  1. Be prepared With Documentation: Andrea mentioned in her talk that she and her siblings started early and understood her parents' assets, got signed physical and electronic copies of powers of attorney, health care directives, and HIPPA forms, as they were invaluable for proving her identity and role in her parents' aging. Her story centers around the tens of thousands of dollars of credit card fraud committed by her parents' caregiver, who was not just an employee, but who had practically become a member of the family.
  2. Follow (or Track) The Money: Phillip Marshall, whose grandmother, socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor, was the victim of psychological and financial abuse very publicly, offered up this advice. He had been very focused on his grandmother's psychological health because the abuse was being perpetrated by her son, but the provable and trackable nature of the financial abuse is what wound up allowing Phillip and his family to intervene in his grandmother's affairs. Make sure you're able to jointly monitor or track account information for vulnerable family.
  3. Fraudsters aren't inventive: Liz Loewy, formerly the head of the Manhattan District Attorney's Elder Abuse unit said that these frauds all tend to have similar elements: duration (months, if not years), victims with some kind of impairment which may be undiagnosed, such as dementia, they tend to be devastating, and there's a lack of monitoring. Here are the most current popular types:

    1. The grandparents scam: where a fraudster will call up an elder, impersonate a grandchild, ask him or her not to mention it to their parents, and ask for money urgently due to an accident, illness, robbery, etc. They'll have researched grandchildren's names through social media and can be convincing.
    2. The tech scam: Malware is on the computer, so "click here" to fix it. Clicking on the link downloads malicious software, which scammers then use to exploit the victim.
    3. The sweetheart scam: A partner whom the victim has never spoken to courts them online through social media or messenger sites, eventually gaining their trust, and access to their money.
    4. The IRS scam: Scammers call up pretending to be the IRS and asking for immediate payment or confirmation of account information. They then use this information to file a fraudulent return and have it deposited in the scammer's account. This activity wouldn't be caught by a credit check.
  4. Humans are bad security: John Hibbs, Bank of America/Merril Lynch had some choice advice which boiled down to: if you're invisible online, it's hard to hack you. You don't need to be the best, you need to be better than the person next to you. Some ways that humans had failed? Posting vacations to social media accounts that are openly accessible, weak passwords that are easily guessed, and inaction on accounts that have been exposed to bad actors. Ok, but how can we fix it? Set up multiple emails that don't identify you and that you only use to login to non-sensitive accounts and set up two-factor authentication on all of your accounts.

Watch the full video below and let us know in the comments: have you or a loved one been a victim of elder financial or psychological abuse? What did you do to address it?

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