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Protect Yourself from Senior Financial Exploitation

What exactly is financial exploitation? Financial exploitation occurs when someone illegally or improperly uses an older adult’s money or belongings for his or her personal use. Financial exploitation is the fastest growing type of elder abuse.

Wad of cashThe number of reported cases of financial exploitation in North Dakota related to the growth in oil-related income among many older residents has increased. However, this type of abuse usually is not reported. Research estimates that at least 20 percent of adults age 65 and older have been victimized by financial fraud and abuse.

Older adults can become the target of fraud and scams by a variety of individuals, from strangers to trusted people in their life. In fact, 90 percent of abusers are family members or other trusted individuals.

Seniors often are targeted because:

  • Older adult households have more wealth than their younger counterparts
  • Older adults are generally more trusting of others and reply politely to inquiries or pleas from strangers
  • Older adults may be lonely and are willing to engage in a conversation with unscrupulous strangers

Certain conditions or factors place some older adults at an increased risk of being victimized. They include isolation, loneliness, recent loss, physical or mental disabilities, lack of familiarity with financial matters, and having family members who are unemployed and/or have substance abuse problems.

Family members and close friends can help protect older adults by watching for certain indicators, although there is no single indicator considered to be proof of abuse, and indicators could be explained by other causes. What is more important is to look for patterns or clusters of indicators that may suggest a problem.
Indicators of financial abuse may be:

  • Unpaid bills
  • Bank account withdrawals, unusual activity, or transfers between accounts that the older person cannot explain
  • Bank statements and canceled checks no longer come to the older adult’s home
  • Belongings or property are missing
  • Older adult has new “best friends”
  • Suspicious signatures on checks and other documents
  • Legal documents, such as power of attorney, have been changed
  • Absence of documentation about financial arrangements

What should you do if you suspect financial exploitation? North Dakota has a statewide Vulnerable Adult Protective Services (VAPS) program that addresses the safety of adults who are at risk of harm due to the presence or threat of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Contact the VAPS Central Intake line at (855) 462-5465, Option 2. Messages can be left after hours.

VAPS staff will review your concern to determine what actions are necessary, including immediate intervention (such as law enforcement) for serious situations, assistance by providing information and referring people to appropriate services, and a home visit to do a full assessment, if warranted.

Depending on your situation, you also can call your local police or sheriff, your bank or credit union, or credit card company. The North Dakota attorney general’s Consumer Protection Department can be reached at (701) 328-2210 or (800) 472-2600.

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