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What if something just doesn’t feel right or your parents’, relative or friend’s finances aren’t adding up? Could it be a professional caregiver, someone who has befriended them recently, or, perish the thought, even your own flesh and blood, who is cooking the books or sporting a cushy lifestyle at your expense? Could it be financial exploitation?

As important as checking out a relative’s physical environment and their health is making sure their money is safe. Just in time for the holidays, the government’s Eldercare Locator, administered by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and the National Center on Elder Abuse, have released a free brochure. Protect Your Pocketbook: Tips to Avoid Financial Exploitation lists warning signs, an action plan to prevent it, and where to go if  your relative (or you) is a victim.

Not your parent? Government figures show as many as five million older adults annually are victims of financial elder abuse, costing them an estimated $3 billion a year.

A financial planner recently told me that he has colleagues in the money business whose own elderly (and vulnerable) parents have been victims of greedy and unscrupulous predators.  So if it can happen to them, guys. . .

Here’s a preview of potential signs:

  • Spend-away activity that doesn’t match your parent’s personality, increased credit card expenses or withdrawals and newly authorized signers on accounts
  • Recent changes in property title, deeds, mortgages, wills, trusts, Power of Attorney and other important documents.
  • A granddaughter age new “girlfriend” who suddenly becomes chummy with Dad.

To avert a problem:

  • Make sure your relative is capable of managing his/her finances. If not, can someone trustworthy in the family do it or should you hire a money manager?
  • Do they have an estate plan? Ask a lawyer about a durable power of attorney for asset management, a living will, trusts and a health care advance directive.
  • Make sure they don’t give their Social Security, credit card or ATM PIN number over the phone to a caller, shred bank statements and credit card receipts; get a criminal background check for caregivers.

And if:

  • Call the Eldercare Locator at 800 677-1116 to connect you with local resources such as Adult Protective Services and an ombudsmen for those in long-term care.
  • If you sense danger, call your local police at 911.

Fascinating: University of California, Los Angeles, researchers believe neurological brain changes in older people may make them more vulnerable to fraud. Read why.

Has this happened to someone you know? What would you/they have done differently? Advice for other readers?

Have any topics you’d like me to cover? Write me at sally@sallyabrahms.com or visit my website. You can also follow me @SallyAbrahms.

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