One in five Americans over age 65 have been financially swindled, says a new report by Investor Protection Trust, a nonprofit organization focused on investor education. That estimate lends added urgency to the agenda of a White House symposium being held today in observance of Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The symposium brings together experts from the public and private sector to focus on preventing and prosecuting elder financial abuse and other crimes against the elderly.
By one estimate, seniors lose $2.9 billion annually to financial abuse. That illegal activity can include everything from phone and e-mail scams from strangers to the unwitting transfer of property and financial assets to known caregivers. Often, the abusers are family members, which makes the crime very hard to identify and prosecute.
As we've reported in Consumer Reports Money Adviser, prevention requires vigilance. Look out for these signs among the seniors you know, particularly those under the care of others:
•Unpaid bills when someone else has been designated to pay them.
•Missing property, large or unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts, or transfers between accounts.
•Changes in banks or attorneys.
•Bank statements and canceled checks no longer coming to the elder's home.
•Unfamiliar signatures on checks and other documents.
•Changes in spending patterns, such as buying items the senior doesn't need.
•Lack of personal amenities, such as clean clothes and grooming items.