Seniors who are dependent on others due to illness, disability or cognitive impairments may be susceptible to financial abuse and fraud. The culprits may be outside predators, hired caregivers, or in some cases even relatives.
If you or a family member is increasingly dependent, there are some simple but important steps you can take to reduce the chance of abuse.
The most important step is to have a trusted family member or friend be involved in the finances – visiting often, reviewing statements, and generally exercising oversight. The best defense against financial exploitation is having someone else around who can notice large checks, unusual ATM withdrawals, missing valuables, and so on.
It’s a good idea to have such a person help with paying bills. The person can make sure the senior isn’t paying bills that he or she shouldn’t be (and can also make sure that legitimate bills don’t slip through the cracks).
A number of credit cards are now available that allow another person to monitor the activity of the cardholder, and to limit both the amount spent and the types of expenditures. One of these is the True Link card.
It’s also a good idea to limit outside solicitations. You can do this through the national Do Not Call registry (at www.donotcall.gov or 888-382-1222), a service such as Nomorobo that blocks robo-calls, and the Direct Marketing Association’s website, which lets you limit the catalogues and credit card offers you receive in the mail (at www.dmachoice.org).
Setting up a joint account with a trusted relative allows the relative to monitor the account in real time, and take additional steps to protect the funds in the account.
Finally, talk to your lawyer about creating a power of attorney document and a revocable trust. These can offer protection against financial abuse while providing a number of other benefits as well.