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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 B's daughter discovered that thousands of dollars had been withdrawn with Ms.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.
Is Financial Exploitation?
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.
You Can Do to Avoid Problems
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:
to Get Help
Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372