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Is Your Money Safe? Protect Yourself Against Financial Exploitation

Ms. B was a frail 83-year-old woman who allowed a "caregiver" to move into a room of her home in exchange for care provided. Within several months, Ms. B's daughter discovered that thousands of dollars had been withdrawn with Ms. B's ATM card. The "caregiver" also took Ms. B to an attorney and obtained power of attorney for herself. She took $5,600 from Ms. B's accounts before the daughter learned of the activity.

Mr. H was an 80-year-old man who lived alone. A young woman befriended him. She would usually visit him around the first of the month when his social security and pension checks arrived. His daughter noticed that Mr. H. began being short of money. It turned out that the young woman was accompanying Mr. H to the bank and filling out withdrawal slips for him, then taking the money.

Ms. K paid rent to live in someone else's home. A healthcare worker who provided services for her discovered that Ms. K was being pressured to write a $30,000 check and wire it to her roommate/landlord's bank account. By paying this money, Ms. K was supposed to become a one-third owner of the property. However, she would still have to pay $350 per month in rent and agree, that upon her death, the property would revert in full back to the original owner. The roommate was threatening Ms. K that she would become homeless or have to go into a nursing home if she did not pay.

What Is Financial Exploitation?
Financial exploitation is the illegal or improper use of another person's resources for personal profit. Many people, especially vulnerable adults who lack the physical or mental capacity to provide for their own daily needs, have been financially exploited not only by con artists who were strangers, but also by people they knew - paid caregivers, neighbors, even relatives. In fact, relatives are the most frequent exploiters.

Examples of financial exploitation include: making unauthorized withdrawals from a bank account; cashing checks that should have been deposited; forging a person's signature; having a person establish a joint banking account, then taking large sums of money out of it; and tricking a person with a memory problem into writing multiple checks for the same purpose.

Financial matters can be confusing. If you have questions or need assistance, ask for help from your bank, a trusted family member, clergy member, social worker or other professional. If you suspect that a vulnerable adult has been financially exploited, call the Maryland Department of Human Resources at 1-800-917-7383.

What You Can Do to Avoid Problems
Document financial arrangements. By putting financial arrangements in writing, you not only protect yourself but you also reduce the likelihood of future misunderstandings of legal proceedings. Put all financial instructions in writing and be specific. Keep complete financial records of all transactions. Put all financial documents in a safe place.

Don't give away property. Before you enter into an agreement for lifelong care, discuss the arrangement with a trusted friend or advisor. Document the agreement and specify the compensation, if there is any, paid to the caregiver. If there is someone helping you with your personal finances, get a trusted third party to review your bank statement.

Get to know your banker, attorney and financial consultant. Establish relationships with the professionals who handle your money. They can help detect changes in your financial activity that may signal a problem.

Be cautious of joint accounts. Both parties are equal owners of the account and both have equal access to the money. Ask your bank about alternatives like a convenience account or Power of Attorney account, which allow others to do banking for you, but do not make them co-owners of anything in the account.

Include a compensation clause in any power of attorney. Before you assign a power of attorney, be sure you understand the scope of the agreement and the authority you are giving to your agent. Know the person to whom you are giving this authority, and, most importantly, make sure you have absolute faith in their integrity. Also, specify the compensation, if any, to be paid to your agent.

Stay socially active. Social isolation increases your risk of becoming a victim of abuse. Become familiar with the many programs in your community designed to bring people together and to help elderly people and their families.

These tips will help you protect your money:

  • Use direct deposit for your checks.
  • Don't sign blank checks allowing another person to fill in the amount.
  • Don't leave money or valuables in plain view.
  • Don't sign anything you don't understand.
  • Protect your money. The bank may be able to protect your money by arranging your accounts to control access to your funds.
  • Be aware of scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Cancel your ATM card if you don't use it.
  • Don't give anyone your ATM PIN number.
  • Check your bank statements carefully for unauthorized withdrawals.
  • Be cautious of joint accounts.
  • Build good relationships with the professionals who handle your money.

Where to Get Help
To report suspected financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, call the Maryland Department of Human Resources at 1-800-917-7383 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Department will contact Adult Protective Services in the appropriate county, which will investigate. You can make such a call completely anonymously. If you choose to give your identity, your identity will still be kept confidential.

 

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free

 
 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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