The ABC’s of Alzheimer’s, Banking and Con Artists

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors dies with dementia.

Dec 22, 2015

If you are not yet involved with a family member with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it may just be a matter of time. You may not want to dwell on this uncomfortable subject, but it is a condition that con artists take advantage of to defraud elders. The 2015 True Link Senior Vulnerability Survey estimates annual elder financial abuse at more than $36 billion a year.

When asked why he robbed banks, the prolific bank robber Willie Sutton reportedly answered, “Because that is where the money is.” Modern-day criminals are no different; they follow the money. They know as a rule that older people have assets and many of them have mental limitations that make them easy pickings. Seniors are more likely to have large balances in the bank that are easy to access.

Just how are elders, particularly those dealing with dementia, getting fleeced? According to the True Link report, there are three main categories:

  1. Nearly half of the losses are due to open actions that take advantage of the elder’s diminished decision-making abilities such as high pressure sales on unneeded products, work from home schemes, quack health products, questionable charitable requests, or misleading financial advice.
  2. Criminal Fraud. More than one third of losses are due to scams and ID theft. Con artists use time-tested frauds like Nigerian prince emails and fake lottery winnings that earn them nearly $10 billion a year. They also find ways to steal the ID of seniors. With diminished mental faculties, seniors may be unaware of new credit opened in their names, or property used for loans.
  3. Caregiver Abuse. Unfortunately, caregivers — who should be protecting these vulnerable elders — make off with more than $6 billion a year. They do this by getting seniors to rewrite wills, borrowing money with no intent to pay it back, or even outright theft.

The appeal of defrauding seniors is not going to go away because it is easy money with a low chance of being caught. Someone with Alzheimer’s does not have the capacity to protect his or her assets without help. Children and grandchildren of seniors need to be proactive to make sure their loved ones are protected from financial loss.

As families support seniors dealing with Alzheimer’s, they need to do more than just make health care preparations; they need to make financial care preparations. Ideally, this will involve two independent and trustworthy adults — one to assist on spending to support care, and one to monitor spending by reviewing monthly bank statements, etc. This can be an uncomfortable transition as the affected elder loses some independence.  But not doing anything is even worse, if it means the elder’s assets are siphoned away, leaving less to support their financial needs or leave a legacy to their heirs.

Fortunately, there are a number of resources people can turn to so they are better prepared to help their loved ones protect their hard earned assets.

  • The FBI has a webpage listing common senior citizen frauds and tips to avoid them.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a guide on how to manage someone else’s money.

Remember, everyone with a brain is at risk for Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s can lose more than memories; they can lose their financial assets. Alzheimer’s can’t be slowed, stopped or prevented. But the exploitation of seniors suffering from this condition can be stopped and prevented. Don’t let the challenge of dementia grow worse by letting it result in financial loses.

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