Financial exploitation can take on many different forms. It is defined in the Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S. § 46-451(A)(4)) as being “the illegal or improper use of an incapacitated or vulnerable adult or his resources for another’s profit or advantage.” Samples of abuse can include:
· stolen cash or assets
· abuse of joint accounts
· abuse of power of attorney
Financial exploitation and trickery can arise in different ways including through e-mail, phone, or letter scams.
Signs of Financial Exploitation
Identifying financial exploitation and/or scams can be difficult. Some noticeable signs of financial exploitation include:
· Showing a difference between income and assets
· unexplained or sudden inability to pay bills
· inaccurate or lack of knowledge about one’s finances
· fear or anxiety when discussing finances
· unusual transfer of assets to others.
But, there are also less noticeable signs of financial exploitation, which can be:
· an individual’s change in appearance and grooming
· change in mood
· change in eye contact with bank personal
· cringing or withdrawing
Since the signs of financial exploitation can be confused as the signs of many different physical, mental and/or emotional changes in a vulnerable adults life, it can be very difficult to identify.
Methods Used to Communicate Scams
It is important to pay close attention to information received and the manner in which the information is communicated. If an email, phone call, letter, prize or lottery notification has any of the following elements, it is probably a scam, seek additional help to determine whether it is actually a scam.
· If the organization has no website and cannot be located in an online search-engine or other online resource it is possibly a scam.
· Be cautious if an e-mail communication or requestor asks for bank account information, credit card numbers, driver's license numbers, passport numbers, your mother's maiden name or other personal information. Often companies do not request the personal and confidential information from their clients in this manner. Rather than responding to the e-mail, check with your local bank to ask whether the e-mail is valid.
· Be cautious if the e-mail, mail or phone caller advises that you have won a prize - but you did not enter any competition run by the prize promoters. E-mail claims indicating that you won a lottery are scams because a legal lottery never notifies it’s winners by e-mail.
Another clue that the communication received is a possible scam is when the return e-mail address is a free email account. While not always the case, most legitimate companies can afford the roughly $100 per year that it costs to acquire and maintain a domain and related company email account.
Resources for Victims of Financial Exploitation
If you or someone you know of is a victim of financial exploitation, you can contact any of the following services:
· Adult Protective Services (APS) Hotline at (877) SOS-ADULT (767-2385) TDD: (877) 815-8390. (A.R.S. §§ 46-451 et seq.).
· If you suspect that the abuse is occurring in a licensed long-term care facility, such as a nursing home, contact your local long-term care Ombudsman. To locate the Ombudsman, call (800) 872-2879. Your report will be confidential, and you can remain anonymous. (A.R.S. §§ 46-452.01, 452.02).
· You can also order the Senior Citizen’s Protection Manual, produced by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. For a free copy of this guide, call (602) 542-2123 or (866) 358-6661 (outside Maricopa County) or visit the Attorney General's Office on-line. (Go to Publications and Seniors).
· You may also phone your local police department if you feel that you or someone you know may be a victim of financial exploitation.
Potential Obstacles When Reporting the Financial Exploitation of another person
If you report possible elder abuse against another person, try to be specific in your description. Also, try to understand the position of the person you are attempting to help. The alleged victim may refuse to admit that he or she is being taken advantage of because of embarrassment, mental capacity, or fear of retaliation. The best thing that one can do to stop scammers is to report incidences of exploitation and abuses.
Ways to Protect Oneself From Financial Exploitation
There are ways a person can be proactive and protect him or herself from financial exploitation. The following list has some examples:
· Make sure that all financial and legal affairs are in order. If they aren’t, enlist professional help to get them in order, with the assistance of a trusted friend or relative if necessary.
· Keep in touch with family and friends and avoid becoming isolated; which increases your vulnerability to elder abuse.
· If you are unhappy with the care you’re receiving, whether it’s in your own home or in a care facility, speak up.
Can Money Resulting From Financial Exploitation Be Regained
Generally, it is extremely difficult to get one’s money back after a person has been scammed. However, federal and state laws prohibit unfair or deceptive trade acts or practices. If you think you've been cheated, immediately let the appropriate government agencies know. The more agencies you notify, the more likely someone will take notice of your complaint and act on it.
· To find the consumer protection office in your state, county or city, visit the federal consumer action website (of the Federal Citizen Information Center) at http://consumeraction.gov/ (click on "Where to File a Complaint" and "State Offices").
· Another way to get relief is to bring a lawsuit against the person in small claims court and/or file charges against the individual.
By taking the actions above we can prevent financial exploitation from becoming simply a matter of fact and protect one of our more valuable assets, the elderly members of our society.