A Brevard County priest accused of defrauding an elderly woman is accused of stealing nearly $90,000 from his victim in less than a year. This case is a shocking example of an increasingly common issue in Florida: the targeting and financial exploitation of senior citizens.
Nicholas King allegedly used his position within the church to influence the victim to open a new bank account and give the priest pre-signed blank checks drawn from her account — to be ostensibly used for the benefit for the church. However, the police allege that the priest instead used these funds to purchase a $42,000 car, dinners, and other opulent purchases, slowly draining the victim of her financial nest egg.
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Regardless of the facts and allegations of the King case, in general it’s important to consider why the elderly are considered targets for scammers: their relatively large savings, a tendency to be more trusting of strangers and figures of authority, and in some cases, their isolation from family members who could intervene in the case of fraud. At least one in 10 senior citizens is exploited financially, according to the Elder Financial Protection Network.
Financial elder abuse is often not detected until the victim has lost a significant chunk of their savings, so it’s essential for families to stay vigilant about their elderly loved one’s financial state. So what can you do to prevent the financial abuse of the seniors in your life?
Regularly Review Financial Statements and Records
Some elderly people suffer cognitive impairments and dementia, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to keep track of any surprising withdrawals from their account or changes to their will. It falls upon their family members to be proactive and ensure their elderly loved one’s finances are in good standing. It can help to accompany the senior to their banking appointments and inform their financial advisors to keep a lookout for any suspicious financial activity.
Be Cautious of Any ‘New Friends’
Much like King, who is accused of using his position of trust as a priest to get close to his victim, there are many predatory individuals who seek out vulnerable older people to “befriend” and eventually financially exploit.
Families should question any new friends who make an appearance in their elderly loved one’s life, especially if they accompany the senior to the bank, express special interest in their finances, or try to isolate them from family members.
Help to Secure Private Information
A single stolen credit card offer could result in financial exploitation of your elderly loved one, so be sure to help your relative to securely store or properly shred receipts, bank statements, unused credit card offers, and other important financial documents.
This goes for information online as well. Help your elderly loved one to practice safe web browsing by explaining common medicare scams and health insurance fraud schemes, such as requests for bank account numbers or social security numbers by email.
Run Background Checks on All Caretakers
One of the best ways that a criminal can gain access to an elderly person’s finances is through the position of caretaker or personal care attendant. These caregivers can gain access to financial records, commit forgery of checks, or even take out loans under the senior’s name without their knowledge. It’s important for family members to screen any new caretakers who are hired to work with their senior loved one for a criminal backgroun or go through a licensed agency that conducts these checks as policy.
Home caretakers are not the only people who can cause financial, physical, and emotional harm to your elderly loved one. Negligent hiring is an issue in nursing homes as well, and if your loved one is hurt as a result of unqualified personnel, you may have grounds for filing a nursing home abuse claim.