In 2009 Anthony D. Marshall, son of New York philanthropist Brooke Astor, was imprisoned after surreptitiously changing Astor’s will and siphoning off tens of millions of dollars from his wealthy and unsuspecting mother’s estate.
The scandal shed light on a growing epidemic of elder financial abuse. If this could happen to one of the richest women in the world, couldn’t it happen to anybody?
We’re told to be wary of money scams committed by strangers, but it’s becoming more common that family members or caregivers are the guilty parties. Having your life savings plundered by someone you trusted is the ultimate betrayal. And such crimes are likely to increase in a stalled economy and with an aging population. Yet because seniors might not even be aware that it’s happening—or if they are, are too embarrassed to speak out—the crime tends to lurk out of sight.
In 2012, when the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards surveyed nearly 2,600 financial planners, fifty-six percent said they knew older clients who had been subject to unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices. Most cases involved family members or someone familiar with the victim. Typically the perpetrators make themselves indispensible to the elder and block interference by others. They especially try to prevent communication between the elder and anyone familiar with the victim’s normal financial transactions.
As a wealth manager, I’ve seen cases of senior financial abuse or had clients ask me how they could avoid the disastrous situations they had heard about from others. This became a growing concern to me, and led me to partner with Chuck Whitlock’s CRIMELINE Law Enforcement Training Program and to help write “Financial Exploitation of Seniors and Investment Fraud.”
In a joint partnership between the Oregon Bankers Association and the Oregon Department of Human Services, along with other social service organizations, a training kit entitled, Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation: How Banks Can Help” is helping financial institutions become a first line of defense for potential victims of financial fraud. Those properly trained can keep an eye out for these warning signs:
- an increase in the number of checks made out to “cash.”
- unusual or erratic activity in the bank account
- irregularities on tax returns.
- caregiver is spending an excessive amount on items for themselves.
- signatures on checks or other documents do not resemble the older person’s signature.
- unusual or inappropriate activity regarding investment properties or bank accounts, including the use of ATM cards to make large or repeated withdrawals.
- Power of Attorney is given when the person is incapable of making such decisions.
- missing personal belongings such as art, silverware or jewelry.
Another useful resource is Preventing and Responding to Senior Financial Abuse in Oregon, a comprehensive report published by the Oregon Senior Financial Abuse Coalition. It includes a list of helpful resources and agency contact information in the event of such a crime. The report can be downloaded here: http://www.oregon.gov/dhs/spd/pubs/finabuse_eng.pdf
The State of Oregon has been an early adopter and proactive defender of seniors who could become vulnerable to abuse. The Oregon Legislature in 2009 required all counties to set up task forces to coordinate the investigation of elder abuse.
Too frequently a lack of documentary evidence and the victim’s reluctance to file charges against an acquaintance makes it difficult to prove financial abuse. The state stresses the importance of notifying the local police as soon as the victim suspects something is amiss. Getting the police involved early on could mean that allegations are more likely to be substantiated.
By using the resources and tools available, we can work together to reduce the incidences of the ultimate betrayal.
Judith A. McGee is the chair and chief executive officer of McGee Wealth Management, Inc., an independent registered investment advisor. She is a co-branch manager of, and offers securities through, Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. (Member FINRA/SIPC) in Portland. Contact her at 503.597.2222 or Judith@mcgeewm.com.
The information has been obtained from source considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing materials is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Judith A. McGee and not necessarily those of Raymond James.