The thought of financial abuse is not always top of mind when we think of our elderly loved ones, and yet it is a real problem with a potentially devastating outcome. In fact, an elder victim’s life savings can disappear in the blink of an eye, leaving them unable to provide for their needs and afraid of what an uncertain tomorrow will bring.
Financial elder abuse is the theft or embezzlement of money or property from an older adult. It can be as simple as taking money from a wallet or as complex as manipulating a victim into turning over property to an abuser.
The following is intended to provide insight into financial elder abuse and highlight what steps a caring family member, friend or caretaker can take when a victim may be reluctant.
Forms of financial elder abuse
Financial elder abuse can take many forms. The most widespread abuses include:
- Theft or embezzlement of cash or other liquid assets.
- High pressure telephone solicitations, especially for charities.
- Identity theft.
- Predatory lending.
- Internet scams (for example, social networks; medication, assistive devices, or medical equipment sales; age reduction remedies).
- Unnecessary home improvements.
- Estate planning scams (for example, an abuser naming themselves as an account beneficiary).
Why victims do not report elder abuse
Victims of elder abuse may not report the abuse for many different reasons. They may:
- Be too embarrassed to admit they have fallen victim to predators.
- Fear that no one will believe them, chalking up their allegations to the effects of old age.
- Want to protect their abusive adult children or other family members from legal consequences or public embarrassment.
- Fear that they will be placed in a nursing home or other facility.
- Feel responsible for what has happened.
- Not realize they have been financially abused.
- Doubt anyone will really help them, even if they do expose the abuse.
- Worry that the abuser may harm them even more.
- Believe they will lose even more money due to costs pursuing the abuser.
- Think resolution will come too late to be of any good.
What to look for
The signs of financial elder abuse may include:
- Someone is isolating the elder, such as not giving the elder an opportunity to speak freely or have contact with others.
- Unusual bank account activity, such as withdrawals from ATMs.
- Signatures on checks and other documents do not resemble the elder’s signature.
- Withdrawals are inconsistent with an older person's needs.
- New authorized signers on the elder’s accounts, or changes in beneficiaries.
- An elder signing checks or other documents when they cannot write or understand documents.
- Increased credit card activity or unexplained changes in spending patterns, such as buying items he or she doesn’t need or can’t use.
- A caregiver, relative or friend showing excessive interest in an elder’s finances or assets.
- A stranger who begins a new close relationship with the elder and offers to manage their finances and assets.
Behavioral warning signs of elder abuse may include an elder who:
- Becomes withdrawn, confused or extremely forgetful, depressed, helpless, angry or frightened.
- Is hesitant to talk freely.
- Is unusually secretive.
The existence of any one or more of these indicators does not necessarily mean that abuse has occurred, but is worth investigation.
Where to turn for help
Any person who suspects that abuse of an elder has occurred should report it. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and report to:
- The elder care locator at (800) 677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov for a referral to a local agency that can help.
- Your local Adult Protective Services, the government agency responsible for investigating cases, intervening and providing help. For California, visit www.dss.cahwnet.gov .