April 5, 2017
When visiting nurse Ernesta arrived to take a blood sample from her patient, Tillie, she was surprised the older woman answered the door herself. Usually Tillie’s adult son Howard let the nurse in. As Tillie slowly pushed her walker across the floor toward her recliner, she explained the situation by saying, “Oh, Howard’s at the casino again. I’m not sure what to do about him. He gambles more and more these days.”
Tillie’s words raised a red flag in Ernesta’s mind, and she looked around the room. The television was gone, and Tillie’s wallet was lying out on the kitchen table instead of tucked safely inside her purse.
Suspicious about Howard, Ernesta asked Tillie several gentle questions about the older woman’s well-being and relationship with her son. When Tillie said she was worried because Howard had borrowed her credit card and refused to return it, Ernesta decided to act. She reported the situation to her province or territory’s elder abuse agency as a potential case of elder financial exploitation.
The rate of financial abuse among the older adult population is on the rise, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association in the U.S. In fact, as many as one in 20 American seniors report experiencing some form of financial exploitation within the past year. And financial abuse crosses all boundaries of age, gender, education and affluence. As a senior care professional, you are in a position to identify and report potential senior financial abuse.
Keeping in mind that no one sign of potential financial exploitation should be taken as a definitive conclusion of abuse, you can nonetheless consider the following signs in aggregate to get a picture of whether or not a client may be experiencing financial exploitation.
Use the following five signs to help determine whether you should report possible financial abuse of a client:
1. Sudden decline in standard of living
In cases where a family member or friend manages a senior’s finances, be alert to a sudden decline in the client’s lifestyle. This could indicate the caregiver is appropriating the senior’s funds for him- or herself. Watch for things like the arrival of eviction notices for a home where the client has lived for years, utilities being cut off for non-payment, discontinuing trips to the dentist, hairdresser or barber because they are “not necessary,” and other things of this nature.
2. New caregiver or “friend”
If a senior client shows up at an appointment with a caregiver, friend or relative in tow, take a moment to identify who the person is and what role they play in the client’s life. Con artists have a knack for materializing in a vulnerable senior’s life with an offer to “help” them and then gradually take control of the older adult’s finances. You can ask professional caregivers if they work for a corporation like Home Instead Senior Care®, which means they’ve been thoroughly vetted, or if they became employed with the senior through other means. You also can have the new friend or caregiver to step outside while you examine or interview the client privately to find out more about the relationship.
3. New romantic relationship, especially online
“Catfishing” is a scam in which con artists target older adults with promises of romance. Typically these scammers pose as a lonely man or woman looking for a relationship online. They reach out to seniors over social media or dating websites, and the “relationship” quickly escalates to asking for money. If a senior client gushes about a new romantic relationship with someone they met online, you might consider raising their awareness about catfishing and urging them not to send money to anyone they have never met in person.
4. Caregivers who object to money being spent on a senior client’s care
Many seniors have concerns about the cost of health care and the expenses of daily living. However, if a client’s caregiver expresses unreasonable concern about the amount of money required to meet the senior’s needs, this could be a red flag for potential financial exploitation. And if a caregiver blocks the purchase of required medications, medical tests, treatments, durable medical equipment or other essential goods and services the client requires, you should consider reporting this as potential financial abuse.
5. Relative or caregiver using a power of attorney to override the client’s wishes
Older adults often sign a power of attorney (POA) document to cede decision-making authority to a trusted family member or friend if they should become incapacitated. But if the caregiver of an apparently competent senior client attempts to use a POA to act against the client’s wishes or best interests, this should be concerning to you as a senior care professional because it can be a sign the caregiver is abusing his or her authority in the relationship—including the handling of financial matters.
What to do if you suspect a client is being financially abused
Many people do not like to involve themselves in the personal affairs of others, and senior care professionals are no exception. However, in your role you may have a legal duty to report elder abuse, including financial exploitation. Mandated reporting of elder abuse usually includes all medical and dental professionals and also frequently extends to financial professionals and others in a position of authority. Check your province or territory’s mandatory reporting guidelines to determine whether you are legally required to report suspected financial abuse.
If you suspect a client is being financially abused, you can take these steps:
1. If you believe the client is in imminent danger due to physical abuse or neglect, call 9-1-1.
2. If the danger is not immediate, call the relevant elder abuse agency in your province or territory.
3. In Canada, find provincial and territorial elder abuse resources at the Canadian Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse website.
Most people who work in the senior care community feel a moral obligation to protect older adults from all kinds of abuse and neglect. By educating yourself about the signs of financial abuse, you might be able to help a client preserve his or her assets and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle throughout retirement.
For additional resources about protecting seniors from financial fraud online, visit www.protectseniorsonline.ca.
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