Financial elder abuse
As we advance in years everybody likes to think they would have a little nest egg on hand. However, sadly for some, this might be depleted or threatened by financial elder abuse.
Justin Moran, Head of Advocacy and Communication at Age Action says, “Every year, hundreds of older people face demands for money, have their pensions withheld or their possessions taken.”
Professor Gerard Fealy is a Professor of Nursing and Director of the UCD National Centre for the Protection of Older People, he says that the way people can be targeted is varied.
“This type of abuse often involves asking (or forcing) an older parent to sign over property or goods…The other common expression of financial abuse is scams, often in the form of letters indicating that the person has won a big prize and should send on an amount of money to ‘claim’ the prize. (People can and do fall for this type of scam, including people who are not old).”
He says other ways this can happen is phone calls purporting to be from the bank and workmen who grossly overcharge for services.
“Unfortunately, it is becoming more common,” says Justin, “The HSE in 2014 reported 2,500 cases of elder abuse, of which one in five related to financial elder abuse. These figures have increased year on year but we believe they are a substantial understatement.”
What makes this even sadder is that Gerard says, “Abuse increases in the oldest old (people aged 80 and over), due to the fact that people in the oldest old category (85 years and over) tend to be more physically frail and therefore more dependent on others. Being dependent is a major risk factor for all kinds of abuse.”
In terms of who might be perpetrating financial abuse Justin says,
“To make it worse, in the overwhelming majority of cases of elder abuse, the perpetrators are immediate family members.”
“Financial abuse is often perpetrated by someone who is trusted, like a son, daughter or caregiver, so this makes the older person vulnerable in so far as they can be led to believe that the family member or caregiver is acting in their best interest,” says Gerard.
In terms of the impact this has on the person being targeted, Gerard says this can be serious.
“Aside from impacting on their finances, it can lead to anxiety, depression and stress. Stress can, in turn, lead to physical illness. It can also result in tension among family members and can result in the older person being ostracized or socially isolated by a family member.”
“It’s not just the loss of money or property, it’s the breach of trust, that feeling of having been taken advantage of by someone in whom you had placed your confidence that is so devastating,” says Justin.
For people who may be worried this is happening to them, Justin says to ask themselves, “Do they feel pressured to allow someone else access to your bank accounts, to collect your pension for you or to give them money?… Is someone else making decisions about what your money should be spent on, do you feel that you’ve lost control of your finances?”
There are also signs you can watch our for if you think someone you know might be in this situation.
“The older person may be embarrassed and may not admit to having money or property stolen. Signs might be the signs of stress, anxiety, depression or even anger. The older person might be tearful or fretful,” says Gerard.
Justin says, “If an older relative is suddenly having difficulty making ends meet or if valuables have gone missing, this could be a sign of financial elder abuse. Something else to look out for is whether an older person seems confused by bank statements or financial information.”
Both say that if it’s something you suspect is happening, either to yourself or someone else, you should act.
“The first and probably most important step is to recognise financial abuse for what it is and to acknowledge to oneself or a family member that it is taking place. Talking about it and bringing it to the attention of the perpetrator(s) may be sufficient to stop it,” says Gerard. He adds that people should, “familiarise themselves with the HSE website, which includes useful information on the recognition and interventions available.”
“The HSE’s National Safeguarding Office runs an information line from Monday to Saturday, 8am to 8pm, for people who are concerned about elder abuse and would like to talk to someone. Their number is 1850 24 1850,” says Justin. “We would urge anyone who believes they, or a family member, is affected by elder abuse to get in touch. It’s important to stress the HSE takes a non-confrontational approach to resolving cases of abuse.”
For more information on this topic visit www.ageaction.ie/elderabuse or you can contact Age Action on 01 475 6989. For more information on the National Centre for Protection of Older People see www.ncpop.ie