Elder financial abuse — when anyone takes or otherwise misuses the property of a senior citizen — is a surprisingly common problem. While financial abuse is often committed by people close to the victims, it is also committed by strangers as well, like scammers and rip-off artists. Seniors are frequently seen as desirable targets because of their relative wealth. As Shawna Reeves of the Institute on Aging points out, seniors are worth an estimated $15 trillion!

Luckily, there are important steps that anyone can take to defend against abuse, which were outlined at the Tideswell at UCSF/Institute on Aging Panel on Elder Financial Exploitation, held in San Francisco on Wednesday night. The panel featured our own Christina Tetreault, Charlotte Carlson of On Lok Senior Health, Sarah Hooper of the UC Hastings College of Law, and Claire McDonnell of True Link Financial. Each of the panelists illuminated a different aspect of elder financial exploitation, from common scams to legal products, like reverse mortgages, that aren’t always right for consumers.

At the event, presenter Sarah Hooper revealed that good planning can be a powerful tool to stop financial exploitation. It’s critical that each consumer devises a careful plan for his or her health and financial future. Issues to consider include: creating a will or trust, signing a living will, and establishing “power of attorney” – in other words, giving the right person power to make decisions for you if necessary. As Hooper noted, effective planning ensures that control over your finances and health treatment will stay with you or someone you trust.

How can consumers begin to plan for their financial futures? Hooper suggests first doing research to identify and consider your options, and then discuss them with a trustworthy, competent advisor or attorney. Be sure to create the appropriate legal documents in accordance with your plan.

To get all of the facts and advice from Hooper and her co-panelists, please check out the presentation slides here. In addition, Consumers Union has been working hard to inform all consumers about the variety of “gimmicks and gotchas” in the financial marketplace. We encourage you to learn more about them on our website.

Big thanks to everyone who joined us at the panel, and to everyone who chipped in to create the fun and informative event. We’ll be posting more about the topics covered. So please continue to watch this space.

Have you or someone you love been affected by affected by a gimmick or gotcha? Please click here to share your story!