by Mark Jones
The law is clear—as a banker, I’m legally responsible to watch out for financial abuse of older adults. The Bible is also clear—as a follower of Jesus, I’m to watch out for widows and those in need. So, it is important that those of us who work in the financial end of our ministries know how to protect those in our congregation or ministry who are older, have disabilities, or for other reasons might be susceptible to financial abuse.
Elder abuse, a growing problem in the United States, includes the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s money, property, or assets. Recent studies suggest that financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse and that only a fraction of incidents are reported. For example:
- Older adults can become targets of financial exploitation by family members, caregivers, scam artists, financial advisers, home repair contractors, and others.
- Older adults are attractive targets because they may have significant assets or equity in their homes.
- Older adults may be especially vulnerable due to isolation, cognitive decline, physical disability, health problems, or the recent loss of a partner, family member, or friend.
At first, you might not recognize or take seriously the signs of elder abuse. Or you could mistake them for symptoms of dementia or attribute them to the elderly person’s frailty. In researching this issue, I’ve learned there are four signs that someone associated with your ministry may be being financially exploited:
- Frequent arguments or tension between a caregiver and the elderly person.
- Changes in financial behavior, such as checks being returned for insufficient funds or significant decrease in donation amounts. Donations may stop altogether.
- Sudden changes in finances or accounts, altered wills and trusts, and loss of property.
- Change in personality or behavior such as being withdrawn, nervous, fearful, sad, or anxious, especially around certain people when they have not seemed so in the past.
If you see any of these signs, have one of your trusted pastors or care team members visit the individual to see what’s happening. If you suspect elder abuse or encounter a suspicious situation, contact your local Adult Protective Services agency. For state reporting numbers, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website at www.ncea.aoa.gov. Additional resources are also available at this site.
Much of Jesus’ ministry here was to the needy and outcast. We have an opportunity and responsibility to protect those he loves who are often forgotten or ignored.