Before I became a full-time content writer with Senior Resource, I worked at a local bank. My job involved sitting in my dimly-lit cubicle and answering the phone. When you work in a call center long enough, you tend to go into autopilot. By your sixth month, you’ve seen and heard it all. No call can catch you off-guard.
Or so I thought.
This call started like most. The caller introduced herself as Viola and requested to know her balance. After she verified her information, I gladly provided it. And that’s when the call took a turn that would’ve blindsided even the most seasoned call center agent.
“Are you sure that balance is right?” Viola asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said in my patented customer service voice.
“It can’t be,” she bleated. “I just got my deposit. I’m sure I have more money than that.”
Now, it was my turn to second-guess myself. Numbers have never been my strong suit, and I was more than willing to concede I might’ve made a mistake. I scrolled through her account, trying to get to the bottom of this mystery.
It didn’t take long to solve.
Large sums of money had been transferred to another person’s account. A little digging revealed that this person—who we’ll call “Sarah”—was her financial power of attorney. Unfortunately, that meant that Sarah technically hadn’t done anything wrong. Still, my gut instinct told me something about this situation wasn’t quite right.
“It looks like Sarah Doe transferred some money to her account,” I said, trying to stay calm for my customer’s sake. “Did you authorize these transfers?”
“No,” Viola cried, on the verge of tears. “I only added her my account so she can withdraw money for me when I need it. I can’t really go out like I used to. Sarah did not have permission to transfer those funds.”
“Can you call Sarah and ask her about this?” I asked.
“She moved, and I have no idea where she went. She said she’d go to the bank to remove herself as my power of attorney before she left,” Viola explained. Panic made her unsteady voice shake even more.
My chest tightened. As a call center employee, your hands are often tied. You may want to go out of your way to assist your customers, but the red tape of bureaucracy prevents you from lifting a finger.
However, I knew I couldn’t sit there and let some swindling crook masquerading as a caregiver take advantage of an elderly lady. I had to something.
I just wasn’t sure what.
A little internet sleuthing took me to a site that allowed me to view Sarah’s new address. Viola removed Sarah Doe as the financial power of attorney on her account and reclaimed control of her finances. Afterward, she was kind enough to send me a thank-you note in the mail (pictured above). While this story may have a happy ending, many older adults aren’t nearly as lucky as Viola. In fact, research shows that older adults lose over $2 billion dollars a year due to financial elder abuse. The good news is, stories like mine can be prevented. Here are five tips on preventing financial elder abuse.
Whether it’s your Social Security Number or the password to your Facebook account, you shouldn’t give your personal information to anyone—unless you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they’re trustworthy. If you write down pertinent information in a notebook, don’t leave it out in the open for anyone to see. Instead, find a safe place to hide it. Don’t let yourself become a victim of financial elder abuse!
If you’re anything like me, you have the tendency to skim your monthly bank statements then set them aside. However, it’s important to always check, then double check, your statements. Look over every transaction carefully. Is there a large purchase you don’t remember making? An ATM withdrawal you’re sure you didn’t authorize? Or, as in Viola’s case, a mysterious transfer to another person’s account? Don’t just assume that everything checks out and move on with your life. Be vigilant—especially when it comes to your finances.
Paper trails can be helpful in preventing elder financial abuse. It certainly makes keeping track of your finances a lot easier! Whenever possible, try to use your credit card or checks instead of cash. Make sure that you jot every transaction down in your checkbook and crosscheck them against your bank statement and receipts. When it comes to your money, you can’t be too careful.
In an ideal world, you could hire any caregiver without fear. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world. Certain people may present themselves as a caregiver but have less than caring motives. Others may start their job with good intentions but succumb to greed somewhere along the line. Before you hire any caregiver, perform a background check. Ask for character references. Look them up on the internet to make sure they’re exactly who they say they are. Do your due diligence and don’t take anyone at face value—no matter how nice they may seem.
We tend to associate financial elder abuse with caregivers, family, and friends. However, outside parties can also financially exploit older adults. Fraudsters tend to target seniors through phone calls, flyers, emails, and even giveaways. For example, they may inform you that you’ve won some sweepstakes then ask for your bank account information. Or they may try to get you to sign up for a subscription service that ends up overcharging you and giving you nothing in return. The most important way to avoid scams is to be aware of them. Educate yourself on what scams are currently targeting seniors. Be suspicious of any odd email or phone call you receive. Remember—if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Originally published April 27, 2023
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