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Are your aging parents at risk of financial abuse?

Researchers have recently discovered that there is a biological reason why some older people are more vulnerable to financial exploitation. Levels of education, reasoning skills and personalities do not, surprisingly, affect the outcome of the findings.

A study of elders led by a Cornell University scientist revealed that those who had suffered financial abuse had different brains than those who hadn't. These differences made them less likely to notice subtle social cues, signals from their intuition and significant events occurring around them. This means there may be a medical reason for your parent's lapse in judgment and his or her failure to realize something is wrong.

One in 20 people will be financially exploited after age 60

While about one in 20 people over the age of 60 report some form of financial abuse, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and other sources suspect that less than half of the instances of abuse are actually reported. Embarrassment is a prime reason for failing to report, but others don't appear to realize that they have been bilked.

Part of the problem may also lie with who is doing the abusing. The most common abusers of elders are their own family members or others they have come to trust, such as:

  • Caretakers
  • Medical providers
  • Friends
  • Bankers
  • Lawyers
  • Clergy

Of course, predators know that much of the country's wealth is in the control of senior citizens, and they will work hard to get their hands on that money.

What are the warning signs of financial abuse?

As you parents, grandparents and friends age, watch for these indicators of elder financial abuse:

  • Frequent use of contractors: As physical mobility lessens, the need for someone to do chores, repairs or handy work around the house increases. A large remodel or repair project or frequent visits by a service provider can indicate that something is amiss.
  • Financial forgetfulness: An inability to recall what a large withdrawal was for, whether bills had been paid or what happened to the money from a social security deposit is a sure sign that your loved one is a prime target for a predator or has already suffered abuse.
  • Increased isolation: The risk of isolation and loneliness rises as physical mobility decreases. A lonely elder may be more agreeable to letting an attentive (but unscrupulous) person come by more often just to have someone to talk to.

If you fear a family member has been financially exploited or you want to know more about how to keep it from happening in the first place, consult an experienced elder law attorney to learn about your options.

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