It takes a creepy kind of person to take advantage of old people.
And yet elder abuse is rampant.
From financial exploitation to caretaker fraud to identity theft, older people often are taken advantage of these days.
Almost half of CPA financial planners have seen an increase in elder fraud or abuse in the last five years, according to a new survey from the American Institute of CPAs.
And a recent report on Elder Financial Abuse, by True Link, a firm dedicated to helping seniors with their financial planning, found that seniors will lose $36.48 billion each year to elder financial abuse - more than 12 times what was previously reported.
What's more, the highest proportion of these losses - to the tune of $16.99 billion a year - comes from deceptive but technically legal tactics designed to specifically take advantage of older Americans.
And while these numbers are staggering, it may be even worse, because "it's just so hard to measure," says Kai Stinchcombe, the co-founder and CEO of True Link.
So much goes unreported, because many elders are embarrassed that they got scammed and never tell anyone. So if Grandma puts a $10 check in the mail to a fraudulent charity, she is probably not going to tell her daughter that she made a mistake and so the money is gone.
Now some of this actually has to do with neuropsychology. "The elderly tend to trust more and some research has shown that it's actually a cognitive thing," says Ted Sarenski, a member of the American Institute of CPAs Personal Financial Planning Executive Committee and founder of Blue Ocean Strategic Capital in Syracuse, N.Y.
Basically their brains don't say "be wary" as much as they age. And that's often how they fall for phone scams, contractor swindles and con artists.
The other part of the problem is that little Bobby can do no wrong, and some the greatest enemies are close friends and family members. "It's so hard for Mom to say, 'No,' to her son, no matter what," says Sarenski.
Well, she better learn how. Otherwise Bobby may soon be on his way to the Ferrari dealership with her retirement fund.
And by the way, Bobby, that's emotional abuse if you keep guilting your mother into giving you money.
So What Should You Do?
While it's never too early to start planning, once you hit age 55, make sure you have the proper controls in place as you plan for retirement, says Sarenski.
Create a Power of Attorney, which basically is a written authorization that tells people how to act -- with your money -- on your behalf.
And while you have to give that "power" to someone, don't let it just be one of your kids. If you designate little Bobby as the one with all the "power" to approve withdrawals, he may very well head back to that Ferrari dealership.
"You need co-POAs," suggests Sarenski. "One can be a family member but the second one should be an institution."
So that could be a bank, your financial planner, a lawyer. Basically, someone who is nonbiased and not a family member.
Because then the nonbiased party will need to approve Bobby's withdrawal too.
Your kids are cute now, but money turns lots of them into monsters.
How Do We Prevent Elder Abuse?
The American Psychological Association's Office On Aging has a ton of tips and if you feel like you are being abused in any way contact you state's Adult Protective Services (APS).
But especially for the folks who can't afford advisors, the community needs to step up. "Lower income people are actually at more risk, because they don't have professionals watching their money," says Sarenski.
So whether you're a teller at a bank who notices that someone is constantly withdrawing money from old Mrs. Smith's account or you're a neighbor that witnesses a contractor - or child! -- take advantage of the old man next door, speak up.
And talk to your parents. Ask them if they've gotten any strange phone calls or have given money to anyone lately, says Stinchcombe, who founded True Link because his grandmother had Alzheimer's and he couldn't believe how complicated financial planning was for older people.
Advisors also have a fiduciary duty to start to ask questions when they see that their clients are aging. Watch for memory loss and difficulty performing simple tasks or speaking.
If you notice any of these symptoms in a loved one -- or yourself -- be on alert. That person could be the next victim of caretaker fraud or a phone scam.
So get involved, and make it stop.
And for more tax info from Tracy Byrnes: