Protecting A Senior's Real Estate Assets: 5 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Elder Financial Fraud
Industry Studies Suggest That 20% of Seniors Are Victims of Financial Fraud.
According to a recent survey conducted by the American Banker’s Association Foundation, Americans over the age of 50 account for 70 percent of all bank deposits, and 20% are estimated to be targeted by financial fraudsters. Both the AARP and the Better Business Bureau say that seniors are more vulnerable to financial scams because of their physical frailty, isolation, or poor mental recall. In incidents where real estate is involved (often the most valuable asset that seniors own) the results are most costly and disastrous.
Here are 5 things that seniors and their family can do to protect their real estate and property interests from financial fraudsters:
1. Tax Statements and other bills. Regularly review all of your real estate tax statements and other documents. While a tax statement does not definitively document property ownership, it will usually name the "owner? of record. So twice a year, when the tax statements issue, verify the name of who is listed as owner. Other items to monitor in the mail: bank statements, unpaid bills, utility shut off notices or worse, eviction notices.
2. Create a trust. Put the real estate in a trust on a senior’s behalf. Unscrupulous. high pressure real estate sales agents or investors often try to weasel a power of attorney, will, other legal document from unsuspecting seniors. These documents give them access to a senior's property. They get seniors to sign these documents through deception, and intimidation. But when a property is placed in a trust on behalf of a senior, it is the trustee who must endorse the sales or other legal documents for a real estate transaction to be legally binding. This arrangement would have served my client’s father well had he had a trust and at the very least, slowed down the transaction.
3. Open and review the mail. Fraudsters can tap into equity lines long thought to be dormant by a senior home owner. Caregivers or family members should monitor checking accounts and be alert to large deposits and withdrawals in a senior’s bank account. Always encourage the use of checks or credit cards instead of cash. This leaves a paper trail. Most importantly, verify signatures on checks or other documents and report any unauthorized or suspicious signatures.
4. Use monitoring services. Consider using real estate monitoring and credit monitoring services. There are services that monitor property transfers and track unauthorized liens in the county public records. Credit monitoring services, such a Lifelock, are also effective to protect against credit card forgeries or other accounts opened fraudulently. With the recent Equifax hacking, it is a good time to pull your senior's credit report to ensure they are not victims of identity fraud.
5. Strength in numbers. Collaborate with a senior's caregiver, family members and financial and legal advisors. Fraudsters take advantage of isolated seniors who may not have a caregiver or family member living nearby. Encouraging good communication amongst a senior’s family members and / or advisors fosters a layer of protection against fraudsters. The more professionals who work on behalf of a senior, the better.
If you or someone you know is planning on buying or selling a home, contact Seniors on the Move to learn how to avoid being a victim of senior financial fraud!
(Better Business Bureau, American Banker’s Association Foundation, Sobel Law)