Technology To Keep Older Adults Safe From Financial Abuse

Depending on which source you ask, financial losses due to elder abuse are estimated to be somewhere between $3 and $40 billion per year.  One of the largest contributors to that loss is unauthorized check writing or other kinds of account tapping – sometimes by a stranger, more often by a “trusted” relative or friend. The National Adult Protective Services Association estimates that 90% of abusers are family members or trusted others. They also state that financial abuse is rarely reported; only one in 44 cases is brought to light by the victim or their family. They also report that one in ten financial abuse cases are so devastating that the victims turn to Medicaid as a direct result of having their life savings wiped out by fraudulent financial activity.

Fortunately, there are a handful of companies, mostly start-ups, that have designed their products around keeping vulnerable older adults safe from financial abuse.  One such company is SilverBills. The founder, Marci Lobel-Esrig, was a practicing attorney in 2008 when she witnessed the astounding number of older adults who were bilked by the Bernie Madoff scandal. At the same time, she was noticing that a much-older aunt was increasingly struggling with her own bill paying and the mother of one of her daughter’s friends went to jail for writing unauthorized checks to herself from the account of an older friend who had trusted her to take over her bill paying.

Marci decided it was time to turn her legal experience into a business that could help seniors be less vulnerable to exploitation as they began to experience difficulty handling their finances due to mental or physical decline. SilverBills is a concierge bill pay service with a subscription model in which, after signing a contract, an older person’s bills are managed by the company.  They resolve thorny issues such as double-billing and raised fees and scrutinize every bill to see that it is aligned with past usage. They currently have a partnership with the New York Department for the Aging, which allows them to offer their service free to those who qualify.  They anticipate additional similar partnerships in the future.

Another company whose niche is helping older adults avoid financial abuse is EverSafe. They monitor bank and investment accounts, credit cards, and credit data. It’s a personal detection and alert system that is designed to stop exploiters before a senior’s life savings is depleted. Like SilverBills, EverSafe operates a subscription model and offers a free trial. After establishing a baseline from historical financial behavior, they can identify erratic activity, anomalies like unusual withdrawals, missing deposits, and changes in spending patterns. They then send alerts to the subscriber and his or her “trusted advocate.”  

TrueLink is another company in the financial-protection-for-older-adults space. They offer pre-paid Visa cards that can be funded and monitored by third parties which give older adults a protected measure of freedom to purchase their own goods and services. TrueLink can partner with a family member as the third party administrator, but they can also partner with trust and elder-law attorneys, guardians, fiduciaries, care managers, home care providers, and daily money managers. This makes TrueLink especially useful for Solo Agers–those who do not have family.  

The three companies above are by no means an exhaustive list of start-ups that are charging in to make life safer and more connected for older adults. At this year’s Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the largest tech exhibition in the world, tech for older adults was one of the hottest areas. To check in on the latest new companies, a good place to start is AARP’s personal technology page.

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