Business & Tech

CONSUMER ALERT

Technology is making elder financial abuse easier to commit

Financial advisor with client.

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By 2030, according to US Census projections, 74 million residents will be 65 or older, an increase of more than 50 percent from current totals. Sadly, there are those who consider this rising tide of aging Americans as a pool of potential targets for fraudulent schemes and scams.

Elder financial abuse takes many forms. It could be a caregiver convincing a lonely older person to change their will, or a financial adviser taking advantage when a client starts developing dementia, urging them to sign over assets. Increasingly, the Internet and social media are playing a role as well, said Terence McGinnis, the state’s commissioner of banks.

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“Technology and creativity are also resulting in an increase in ways that elders can be taken advantage of,” he said.

The state has rolled out a campaign to educate employees of banks and other financial institutions about detecting the warning signs that a customer may be a potential victim of financial abuse. The rest of us, however, also should keep our eyes open for clues that family or friends might be targeted by crooks.

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Unexpected financial activity — especially sudden and large withdrawals — is a red flag, particularly if your loved one is unable to clearly explain the transactions. Watch out for any sign that a third party has shown an interest in an older person’s financial affairs — perhaps your grandmother mentions a nephew’s desire to see her retirement accounts, or a neighbor mentions a suspicious conversation with a visiting nurse.

Perhaps most important, if an older person suggests they are considering signing over assets, giving power of attorney to someone, or adding a co-signor to an account, it is worth asking a few questions to feel out whether the plan is legitimate.

Unfortunately, elder financial abuse can be hard to detect and harder to combat. Even if you are concerned about your aunt’s judgment, she still has a legal right to do as she sees fit with her assets. It can be tricky to prove that an older person did not act of her own, clear-headed volition but was instead taken advantage of by someone. Efforts to clarify the situation could lead a family member to wonder if you are after their money.

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Still, if you suspect something untoward is going on, speak up. You can report suspected financial exploitation to the state’s elder abuse hotline at 800-922-2275.

Sarah Shemkus can be reached at seshemkus@gmail.com.
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