Dr. Max Gomez’s adult son thought his father was no longer practicing medicine. He later found out Dr. Gomez was the putative medical director for several clinics, at least one of which was using his identification number for Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
This was just the beginning of a financial disaster. The clinic stopped paying Dr. Gomez’s condominium fees and apartment mortgage, and took out a second mortgage in Dr. Gomez’s name. His apartment was foreclosed on.
Not even Dr. Gomez’s bank accounts were left. A woman had written out several checks to herself which she talked Dr. Gomez into signing. All the assets he worked so hard for were gone, and he was left with only Social Security payments.
Now Dr. Gomez lives in a New York assisted-living facility. When Dr. Gomez saw his son filling out Medicaid papers for him he exclaimed, “Medicaid? But I have money.”
Scope of the Problem
Unfortunately the experience of Dr. Gomez is not uncommon. Financial exploitation is becoming one of the most prevalent forms of elder abuse. The National Council on Aging estimates that $2.6 billion is fraudulently taken from seniors annually.
Financial elder abuse is the improper use of a vulnerable adult’s money or other assets for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult. It is similar to physical elder abuse in that it is often committed by a trusted caregiver. Both forms of abuse can be devastating.
Law enforcement officials say they have seen an increase in elder financial fraud during the recession. The elderly are attractive targets because people over age 50 control more than 70 percent of the nation’s wealth, according to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.
Since one of the first signs of dementia is confusion over money and finances, family members are often not aware of a loved one’s vulnerability until it is too late.
The best thing family members can do to prevent financial exploitation of a loved one is to check in regularly and be alert for indications of abuse.
Signs of Financial Elder Abuse
- Uncharacteristic pattern of unpaid bills
- Account activity the elder cannot explain
- Financial statements no longer coming to the elder’s home
- The care the elder is receiving is not appropriate to the size of his or her estate
- Valuable belongings are missing
- Suspicious withdrawals by people assisting the elder or by new “friends”
- Sudden changes in wills, power of attorney forms or other financial documents
Financial exploitation may lead to other types of elder abuse. If an elderly person’s funds become exhausted he or she may no longer be able to afford home care and enter a nursing home. Once in a nursing home the elderly are vulnerable to the more traditional types of physical problems, such as nursing home abuse, neglect and bed sores.