Identifying Elderly Client Abuse
by Frank Dickens ABR, SRES, SFR, SRS and Nikki Salgat, Esq.
The elderly population is on the rise. Currently, almost 13 percent of the population is age 71 to 92 and 1.5 percent is over 92 years old. With this increase in growth, real estate practitioners today are finding that many transactions involve senior citizens.
Consequently, real estate professionals may find themselves in a situation where they suspect competency issues or even elder abuse.
First and foremost, it is not up to agents to determine whether someone is competent or if abuse exists. In fact, it is beyond our scope of expertise. However, when we spot problematic signs, it may be up to us as professionals to refer family members or the elder to helpful resources.
Part One: Competency (posted February 6, 2017)
Part Two: Abuse
Elder abuse generally refers to any knowing, intentional or negligent act by a caregiver, or other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.
While there are many different forms of elder abuse, it typically occurs by way of financial or material exploitation via illegal or improper use of property and assets. It often occurs by way of criminal financial abuse and identity theft. Unfortunately, caregivers and family members are also found to be perpetrators.
One popular scam is calling an elderly person and posing as a relative who asks for money to “get out of trouble.” You might think that the victim would be anxious to report fraud of this nature, but many are hesitant to report the incident because they fear losing their independence or are simply embarrassed.
Another common form of elder abuse is physical abuse due to neglect.
Signs of abuse:
- Assets are transferred to a friend or family member who is assisting in financial decisions. While there are legitimate transfers of assets, this is typically unnecessary when assisting an elderly person with their finances.
- Changes in an elder’s mood, personality and interaction can be a sign of someone taking advantage financially and physically. These changes are typically observed in those who are isolated, alone and located far away from family members.
- Changes in spending habits can be prevalent in the elder population as they are often approached by so-called “non-profit” organizations for donations and even systematic withdrawals to satisfy a scam pledge.
- Missing property and lost valuables can be a sign of scammers or dementia as the elder is afraid of theft and begins hiding valuables without recalling where they are hidden. Alternatively, the abuser could have removed the valuables from the elder’s home.
- Family members or caregivers attempting to isolate the elder, changes in daily habits and circles of friends, lack of hygiene, empty refrigerators and kitchen shelves can all be signs of abuse or dementia.
- Changes in or the inability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) can be a telltale sign of abuse or dementia. ADLS include bathing, dressing, toileting, eating, moving from a bed to a chair and maintaining continence.
- Legal issues such as a receipt of a foreclosure notice, unpaid bills, changing bank accounts, unusual transfers of money, checks made out to CASH, forged signatures, quitclaim deeds and new property liens are examples of what may be a scam or opportunism.
If you see signs of abuse, you should be cautious about making accusations. Instead, consider enlisting the proper assistance of family members, elder law attorneys and maybe even law enforcement officials. If appropriate, an available resource is Adult Protective Services, a governmental entity that receives and evaluates reports of suspected adult abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Related story: Look Out for Older Clients to see how real estate scams often target seniors. – REALTOR®MagTags: abuse, Activities of Daily Living, ADLs, Adult Protective Services, aging, elder abuse, elderly, mental capacity, senior citizens