When most people think of their elderly friends or relatives, they think of them as sources of guidance, wisdom and fond memories. Unfortunately, there’s a segment of today’s population that sees the elderly as an easy target for financial exploitation. What can you do to protect your elderly loved ones?
WHO IS AN ELDERLY PERSON?
Under Georgia law, an elderly person is anyone 65 years of age or older. The law also covers disabled adults, regardless of age, if they are mentally or physically incapacitated or afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
WHAT IS FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION?
Financial exploitation occurs when someone illegally or improperly uses an elderly person or disabled adult (or the resources of that person) for their own profit or advantage. There are a variety of ways in which someone can exploit an elderly or disabled person including (but not limited to) undue influence, deception, false representation, harassment or duress.
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS?
There are several things to watch for when dealing with adults who you believe may be potential victims. Many of these signs, taken alone, may seem inconsequential or perfectly legal which is why it’s necessary to pay attention to the entire picture.
For example, an elderly person is entitled to give away their money to anyone of their choosing, even if they’ve just met this person. This does not automatically mean they’re a victim. However, if you look further into how much money the potential victim has and how much was actually given, that will help you determine if the gift was reasonable. Another thing to examine is the relationship between the giver and recipient. What is the nature of the relationship? How long have they known each other? Does it seem like the gift was given freely or was coercion applied? The answers to these questions will give you an indication of whether you need to further explore the situation.
Watch for unpaid bills or large withdrawals from bank accounts that the elderly person cannot explain. Look for newly signed legal documents that may have been signed without a full understanding of what they were or under duress. Have you noticed property or other personal belongings missing? Do the signatures on the elderly person’s checks match their handwriting? If the elderly person has a full- or part-time caregiver, does that caregiver have an excessive interest in the financial picture of the person in their care?
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU SUSPECT SOMEONE IS THE VICTIM OF ELDER ABUSE?
In Georgia, the GA Department of Human Services, Division of Aging Services can help as can your local law enforcement. The can assist you and/or the victim in finding appropriate services to stop the abuse and prevent it from happening again. Keep in mind that, as in the example of giving away money, the victim may refuse any help and, unless the person reporting the situation can prove the elderly person is mentally impaired, that refusal of help may stand. In that case, the best thing you can do is remain a steadfast friend and keep an eye on the elderly person.
If you have further questions, there are several helpful websites. One of the best is the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (www.preventelderabuse.org). Another convenient resource is the GANE App. This is an app that’s a collaboration of the GA Department of Human Services (Division of Aging Services), the GA chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the GBI. It’s available for Apple and Android devices.