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Tips to avoid, prevent increasing elder abuse

January 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Older Americans are easy victims for scam artists. But increasingly it's trusted family and friends who are abusing the elderly by draining bank accounts, selling valuables or even taking over their real estate. These crimes can often be very difficult to spot.

Seventy-four-year-old Arthur Green spent years building his lakeside home. He says recently he was persuaded to sign it over to his granddaughter and was told he could live out his days there.

"All of a sudden she just like, I don't know what, snap of the fingers, she changed. She got money hungry," said Green.

His granddaughter tried to evict him and sell the property.

"Arthur was absolutely at risk of homelessness," said Denis Culley, a legal services attorney. "He was also completely impoverished because this land and house is the only thing of any value he owned in the world."

Culley, Green's lawyer, says financial exploitation of seniors is all too common and often goes unreported. A Consumer Reports investigation finds theft and fraud by loved ones is on the rise.

"Caregivers, family members, neighbors, they can use all kinds of tactics to raid their assets," said Tobie Stanger, senior editor, Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

They can be as obvious as forging signatures on checks, begging for loans that are never paid back or abusing power of attorney.

"When you give power of attorney to somebody, it can give them unfettered access to your accounts," said Stanger. "Somebody who misuses those can do real damage. And that's a real problem for the elderly."

Consumer Reports offers tips to help prevent elder abuse:

- Have bank and investment statements sent to a person you trust to monitor accounts.
- Arrange for direct deposit and automatic bill pay.
- Consult a reputable elder-law attorney for advice on wills and limiting power of attorney.

Fortunately for Green, a legal services program for the elderly he consulted obtained a court order voiding the granddaughter's deed, returning the property to him.

Consumer Reports says if you or an elderly relative is concerned about financial abuse, a good place to get help is the National Center on Elder Abuse.