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Mama needs your help

By Michael D. Wynn, CFE

Many of our mothers, fathers and elderly people in general are being neglected or sometimes forgotten about. Elderly people are at an increased risk of losing their money and property to family, friends, and even strangers for a variety of reasons.

When it comes to maintaining finances, tending to the costs of a household, keeping track of medication and trying to find the best cost of living, our seniors need help from time to time.

For example, balancing a checkbook may not seem difficult even when you are young and have good eyesight and a great memory. However, for our seniors the simple process of reading mail and writing checks can become difficult due to loss of vision, severe arthritis, or short-term memory loss.

So when it comes to finances many seniors like to be organized because it’s more than just an issue of paying a bill. It is an issue of pride and dignity and can mean the difference between dependence and independence.

Many elderly people deal with isolation, loneliness from a loss of a loved one, they are living with physical or mental disabilities, and lack familiarity with financial matters.

And then there are some that have to deal with family members who are unemployed with their own financial problems, substance abuse or gambling problems—making matters worse.

The best way to help is to first gain their trust as someone who is willing to help them on a regular basis by letting others know that you will be available.

Always be willing to explain the reasons why it is necessary for you to do the things that you need to do.

Many seniors wants to remain in control of their finances but may have lost the ability to write as a result of an illness, injury or surgery.

And there are many adult children with aging parents who want to help their parents with the task of keeping the checkbook balanced and to keep the parents’ credit in good standing; however, some seniors do not want their children’s involvement—or the adult child lives in a distant city or state.

Hiring a reputable service in this instance can be a way to keep peace in the family. Therefore, a bill paying service may work for them by setting up a system that works best.

Some home care companies may offer this service, but be very careful, account information should never be shared with anyone that is not bonded and insured.

Elderly people and their children should be aware of the criminal activity, often called elder financial abuse that is committed by people who claims to love or care about the older person in order to gain access to their money. This is crime labeled the “sweetheart scam” by dishonest people, or businesspersons posing as such, may include:

– People seeking employment as personal care attendants, counselors, etc., just to gain access

– People driving through the neighborhoods asking about people who are alone and isolated

– People who may contract recent widows/widowers through newspaper death announcements

– People going door-to-door posing as home repair specialists, but are really con artists looking for easy money

– Business overcharging for services or products

– May charge a elderly person’s credit card in small amounts or multi charges without their permission

– Use their positions of trust or respect to gain agreement from their victim

– Promising lifelong care in exchange for advance money or property and not following through on the promise.

Tips on how to protect a elder person from scams:

The number rule of consumer law: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Family can play a role in this process. Here are some tips that will help:

– Changes in their lifestyle: If you see a lifestyle change that’s out of the ordinary, you need to ask why and what’s happening here. For example, if all of a sudden you notice an elderly person that becomes withdrawn and stops going to church or social functions, or you notice unpaid bills, and utilities disconnect notices lying around that’s a sign something may be wrong. They’re usually embarrassed or afraid to tell their family they have a problem, and this is common. Most elderly people’s biggest fear is losing their independence, and they will hesitate in telling anyone they’ve been victimized because they do not want you to think they’re incapable or vulnerable.

– Look for warning signs of financial abuse: Bank transactions that can not be explained or unusual account activity and amounts from bank withdrawals; bank statements and canceled checks stop being sent to the home; financial arrangements in which the elderly person is unaware that have been made for him or her, or has signed documents he or she didn’t understand; notice the level of care being received by the elderly person is inadequate given his or her financial resources; suspicious signatures appear on checks or other documents, and some of the elderly person’s possessions are missing.

– Review their financial statements. If your parent or an elderly person decides to give you financial power of attorney, they’re permitting you to utilize their bank accounts and pay for bills, monitor their credit card expenses, and other financial matters. An elderly person can also request that the bank send duplicate statements to another family member. It’s a good idea to have someone they trust review their financial statements on a regular basis, and look for any suspicious or unusual activities on their accounts.

– Safe Banking: Your parent or the elderly person you are caring for should sign up for direct deposit with their bank. This way, deposits go directly into your accounts and can’t be intercepted by others; never give out your ATM debit card or personal identification number (PIN) or Social Security number to anyone other than you child or the trusted person helping you; bank checks should be kept in a safe place, and some banks provide check storage; never sign blank checks allowing someone else to fill in the amount; have someone review the bank statements every month and check the credit history every 3-6 months.

– Safe Business: Always be cautious of joint accounts, as both parties have equal access to the money. When in doubt, contact the bank to stop payment on checks, to flag or to put a hold on the account, or to close an account; be very cautious about signing powers of attorney: Before signing a power of attorney for a bank account, general purposes, or for financial management, know and trust the person that you are naming as the agent for your parent or the elderly person. A power of attorney is a powerful legal document that can sometimes be used by dishonest persons to “legally steal” someone’s money and assets. Consult an attorney or make an appointment with legal services before executing a power of attorney.

– Get it in writing. There are times when your elder family member may want to donate money to charity, or use their savings towards an investment. You need to find out what the charity or investment opportunity is, and get the information in writing, don’t always rely on the elderly person to give you the right information. Take the time to review the fine print and see if it’s legitimate. Always ask for written information from the source. Remember any legitimate business or charity knows that it’s appropriate to ask for written information. Family members should check into the unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, and the State Attorney General’s Office consumer protection office (go to www.coachwin.com and the news link for the fraud & credit contacts)

– If you are a victim, act quickly. Contact the bank and close accounts that you think may be accessible by the fraudulent parties. File a police report with local authorities and be sure to get a copy for your parents or the elderly person records. You may later be asked by credit card companies for a copy of the report to verify the crime. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.

“God grant us patience”

– William Shakespeare

Michael D. Wynn can be contacted at (313) 592-3157, or by email winwynn@coachwin.com or go to www.coachwin.com

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