$2.6 billion dollars...that's the estimated amount victims of elder financial abuse lose every year according to a report by MetLife. But some of that money isn't going to typical 'scam artists,' it's actually going to seniors' families and friends.
Bankruptcy and Social Security Attorney Cathy Church works with primarily senior clients, so many, in fact, she now volunteers her time off the clock to spread awareness about how seniors can protect their finances.
But victims of the typical credit card or phone scams isn't her only concern. It's those who are caught in a financial trap created by someone they know and trust. Most commonly, seniors who are the co-signers on their grandchildren's or relative's student loans.
"Some students who apply for and get these cosigned student loans don't finish the program or are unemployed after they finish their program, and they end up owing thousands in student loans that they do not have the financial resources to pay," said Church.
The loans then fall back to the seniors. Many are on a fixed income, and that's money they don't have. A default could cause all of their interest rates to rise and credit to lower; then, they may have a very serious problem.
"Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, those student loan amounts are going to follow the student or the cosigner until one of two things happens: the debt is paid off or the person dies," Church said.
Church says she's seen seniors who have lost their home because of this problem. Some have even admitted this kind of financial problem causes them to lose their will to live.
Care providers say they often see the same heartbreaking stories when seniors post jail bond for a relative, who then disappears.
"Currently, I have a client losing her home because seniors want to pay their bills, they will not declare bankruptcy," said Forsyth Senior Center Director Julie Shaw. "They insist on paying bills because that's the way their generation did things."
Sometimes problems can even occur when family members are given financial power of attorney or responsibility of an individuals checkbook after that individual is no longer capable of performing those duties.
"Sometimes they claim to be paying bills, but they're taking the money and using it for other things," said social worker Michelle Borrette.
Perhaps the frustrating part of this issue is it's extremely hard to guard seniors against these problems simply because of the trust people, also called the 'greatest generation,' has always known.
"When you love somebody, you'd probably do anything for them, to help them better themselves, get a career, have a future," Church says. "I guess you should know for certain if you can trust them. We have to teach them that, unfortunately, things have changed. Wwe have to teach them not to trust."
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