The elderly tend to have most financial assets in the United States and in many other Western nations. So it should come as no surprise that the scammers often have them in their crosshairs. And this means that, whether you have a house or are moving or just have some financial assets, some sleazy people could be targeting you. They want to steal your lifetime savings and investments.
Therefore your parents, grandparents, or very possibly you could be the victim of elderly financial abuse, says senior citizen advocate groups. It is a huge problem.
Billions Stolen Year after Year
“Each year, elder financial abuse costs U.S. citizens more than $36 billion and one in every five Americans age 65 or older has been abused financially,” according to a paper by Caring Transitions, a relocation services and estate sales services provider.
Stopping the problem is complicated, says senior citizens advocates. That’s because abuses are often committed by people the elderly person knows and the abuses are often never investigated.
“Just 1 in 44 financial elder abuse cases are ever reported,” according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.
The abuses include theft of valuables, credit card scams, false shipment and credit card chicanery as well as home repair and moving scams.
Moving? Be Careful
An elderly person needs to move his or her household goods across states but will often be targeted by “a rogue mover.” This is a firm that is unlicensed and offering an incredibly cheap rate.
“Rogue movers tend to outsource their moves to unskilled laborers and do not carry workman’s compensation,” says Nan Hayes, director of business development at Caring Transitions. “They typically do not offer any kind of insurance to protect the clients’ goods.”
Another scam is a company offering to sell a person’s estate, but actually undervaluing the estate and pocketing the difference. “Know what to look for from your estate sale provider such as insurance, a legal contract and reliable testimonials,” Hayes says.
If you wonder about a mover or whether the mover is following requirements, Hayes says one should visit Mover.com or the American Moving and Storage Association (moving.org).
“Your House Needs Work”
Another common scam is the phony home repair contractor. The AARP says this contractor will seem to be doing work next door and will then offer to work on your home.
“We’re in the area working on your neighbor’s property, the scammer will say. And I see you need water remediation.
“Basically, they scare an older person by saying there’s serious water damage to the home,” says David Geibel, a senior vice president with Girard Partners Ltd. In King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
When using a home contractor, AARP officials say, one should ask for references and check. For instance, is the contractor really working on your neighbor’s house?
“Whenever possible,” the AARP writes in a paper, “close friends or relatives should be present during a contract signing or when home repairs are done to decrease the risk of contractor fraud.”
Can You Trust All of Your Relatives?
But here, getting relatives more involved, sometimes compounds the problem: Perpetrators of financial elder abuse “are most likely to be adult children or spouses,” according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine and Science.
The problems of elder finance abuse are extensive and complex but the solution lies in greater awareness, says senior citizens advocate groups. (See Notes Below: “Three Steps to Stop Abuse”)
If you are a victim of this abuse or think that you might be a victim, the National Center on Elder Abuse (ncea.aoa.gov (http://ncea.aoa.gov/) can point residents in every state to an elder abuse hotline.
Three Steps to Prevent Abuse
*Understand how a provider is qualified to serve you. As the Estate Sale industry is unregulated and can be a haven for scam artists and unethical companies, it is important to ask the company how their staff has been trained and certified in, including their field of expertise. Ask about professional standards including industry exams, independent industry certification and background screening.
*Seek out client references: Any professional organization should be able to provide letters of reference and contact information for recent clients cheerfully and quickly. Contact those clients and find out what they liked and what they didn’t like. It should be noted that “legitimate” companies will always welcome a consumer’s questions.
*Inquire if an estate sale or moving company has a contract. You should never engage an estate sales representative or moving company without a contract and you should always receive a copy of the signed contract.
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