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Money Times - June 23, 2015

Posted by Jill Kerby on June 23 2015 @ 09:00

ELDER FINANCIAL ABUSE – WHO DO YOU TRUST?

 

There were 13,000 cases of elder abuse reported to the HSE to the end of 2013 and one in five of those (20%) were described as financial abuse. More recently, a survey conducted by Age Action, the advocacy organisation for the elderly and Ulster Bank found that about half of the bank officials in the 500 banks involved suspected that their customers had been victims.

In most cases, the perpetrator was a family member.

Elderly people make easy targets for financial abuse. As a group, they’re financially sound with little or no debt, mortgage-free and they pay off their credit card balances. They also have more cash in banks, credit unions and post offices than the rest of the population and often live alone. As they approach advanced old age they also rely on others for their domestic needs, like shopping, banking or bill-paying.

The Age Action survey, which provided four typical examples of financial abuse, showed just how vulnerable you can be when you are not in full control of your finances and are, literally, physically unable to protect yourself:

Case one involved a woman in her late 70s whose son had moved in with her after the break-up of his marriage. He was increasingly aggressive and moved his own son into the house. They contributed very little to the household bills and she was afraid to keep asking them to. They drank too much. She stopped asking them for any money “as it would lead to arguments, including physical threats but was reluctant to go to the Gardai “as it concerned her family.” Eventually the son moved his girlfriend into the house and the woman moved to the UK to live with her brother. When she eventually returned her son refused to let her back into her own home She now lives in sheltered housing.

The next case involves an elderly man of 80, living alone, whose daughter was forcing him to withdraw money from his bank and hand it over to her. The man told his son that she “had shouted at him and threatened to put him in a nursing home if he did not give her money.”

Case three involved credit card fraud and a lady with dementia, whose son had convinced her to set up a joint bank account. He used the account to get a credit card on which his mother was charged.  With the help of a daughter, the bank discovered the fraud and reimbursed her.

The final case involved an elderly lady of 85 who had to be hospitalised for an operation. She lent her car to her son. When she recovered and returned home – after a full recovery – and wanted her car back, he refused and became verbally abusive.

In too many cases of financial abuse, the victim is reluctant to report their case of theft – because that’s what it is – to the Gardai, say Action Ireland. Even when cases are reported to the policy, prosecution and convictions are miniscule… and the abuse continues.

After the survey came out,  nearly everyone I spoke to about it shared stories of financial abuse that had happened to people they knew:  a nursing home resident (the friend of their own mother) who was ‘forced’ to write cheques to adult grandchildren who said they would stop visiting her.  The widow whose two daughters who took her out for outings to shops and restaurants and on holidays, but only on condition she paid the bill for these events. The single, elderly man convinced to make a charitable donation, but was told to write the cheque to the charity worker. And the widow who ended up giving valuable jewellery and a coin collection to one child, who sold them unbeknownst to her siblings. The adult child had claimed these items would be “her inheritance” even though she was still named as an equal beneficiary of her mother’s estate.

Financial elder abuse doesn’t always happen with menaces. But it is understood to be on the rise since the economic crash. Higher levels of debt and unemployment may be a trigger, but it’s further complicated by family dynamics like sibling rivalry and resentment, especially if some siblings live far away, or don’t share care responsibilities or visits.  There can also be a history of violence, substance abuse, poor health and co-dependency, say Age Action.

Suspected elder abuse in the form of assaults and sexual abuse are notifiable offences for health workers, but there’s no legal obligation to notify the Gardai in a suspected financial case.

More’s the pity. This latest survey shows financial elder abuse is commonplace and deplorable. Given that some complaints allegedly involve the collusion of so-called trusted family solicitors and other advisers, it may be very hard for a vulnerable person to know whom to trust.

 I’d be inclined to turn to Age Action or, yes, even my bank for help. See www.ageaction.ie  or Tel (01) 4756989

 

If you have a personal finance question for Jill, please email her at jill@jillkerby.ie or write to her c/o this paper.

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