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How to Avoid Elder Financial Abuse

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Elder abuse comes in many forms. Physical, sexual, emotional, neglect abandonment, and financial. Financial abuse is the fastest-growing form of abuse in the elderly population.

Elder financial fraud and abuse are estimated to cost victims about $3 billion a year.

a computer that could be used for financial abuse

Financial abuse in the elderly population can happen at the hands of family, friends, and even caregivers. This can take the form of stealing money, not repaying borrowed money, and overcharging for services. The elderly are often targeted specifically because they have spent a lifetime accumulating money and property with value. That is coupled with the assumption that a decline in cognitive abilities makes the elderly especially vulnerable to this type of abuse.

Financial elder abuse is the most common form of elder abuse and the fastest growing and yet only 1 in 44 victims reports the crime.

Many states have laws and protections in place that will allow legal recourse for those that are suspected of this type of elder abuse. Though the laws vary by state, it must be proved that the suspected abuser is in a “position of trust” and fraudulently coerced finances from the individual with or without their awareness. These positions can be family, romantic interests, caregivers, or even lawyers, and estate planners.

Effects of financial abuse:

Above losing monetarily, there can be lasting repercussions due to financial abuse. Victims can and often experience:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • A decline in physical health

  • Loss so independence

  • Loneliness

  • Even a shorter life expectancy

If you have an aging loved one and want to ensure they are safe from financial abuse, know the signs and red flags that can alert you to possible financial abuse.

  • Unusual bank activity includes extensive withdrawals, purchases that are out of the norm, or a signature on a check that does not look like your loved one's.

  • Sudden changes in legal documents like a will or power of attorney.

  • Missing checkbooks or account statements

  • A new closeness with a family friend or relative who often answers for your loved one.

  • You start to see limitations on when you can visit: You are only allowed to visit when in the presence of a particular person.

  • Important legal documents and checks continue to be signed when your loved one is no longer able to write.

90% of financial abuse victims know and trust their abusers. (National Center on Elder Abuse)

Financial abuse at the hands of a friend, family, or loved one is the most prevalent form of financial abuse in the elderly. If you suspect that your loved one or someone you know is a financial abuse victim, reach out to them and talk to others that might be able to step in and offer assistance. Many victims are either unaware that they are bd=gin taken advantage of or if they are they are too embarrassed to tell anyone especially if the abuse is at the hands of a family member. One preventative measure is for families to maintain open lines of communication so that all designations for the power of attorney, deeds, and insurance beneficiaries are clear to all family members.

The elderly are often targeted by strangers with scams and fraudulent promises that take monetary advantage of them. This can happen even in communities like assisted living facilities. Scammers operate through phones, mail, and computer. They don’t have to be in person to talk their victim out of money. Victims in the facility may feel lonely or suffer from some cognitive decline. The scammers will convince them they have won a lottery but must first pay the taxes on the “winnings” or tell them they are following up on an “order” and payment is due. Other recurring scams are “charity” causes and “natural disaster” fundraising that pull on the heartstrings of the elderly who want to be generous.

Sally Balch Hurme, a seasoned attorney that taught elder law at George Washington University Law School and an expert on consumer fraud explains one of the more prevalent and harder-to-spot scams that target the elderly. “One category of scam is perpetrated under the guise of investment advice. Professionals peddle financial products that they claim will benefit the investor but in reality, are unsuitable. These professional scammers work to develop a sense of trust, but in actuality, they are looking to pad their own pockets.”

Warning signs for scams and fraud

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, if you see any of the things listed below, these could be signs that your elder loved one is being targeted by a scammer.

  • Your loved one receives news about a lottery win or prize that requires them to pay fees or taxes before they get the money

  • A caller asks your loved one for their bank account information or asks them to make a payment using a gift card, wire transfer, or cryptocurrency

  • A caller makes a financial decision seem urgent by pressuring your loved one to either act now or risk losing an opportunity or act now before something terrible happens

  • A caller claims to be from a government agency, bank, or other organization and asks for information that they should already have, such as a Social Security number or account number

  • Your loved one receives a lot of mail or emails about sweepstakes, contests, health supplements or products, or other scams, suggesting that he or she is being targeted by scammers

There are some relatively simple things that you can do to prevent others from taking advantage of your loved one. The simplest and most basic is to be present. Much like a home is less likely to be robbed when it has an alarm system in place, an elderly person is less likely to become a target if you are consistently present and openly communicate with your loved one. Speak with your loved ones and caregivers regularly.

No matter if you're looking for general information or support in dealing with fraud, there are numerous organizations and systems in place to help older citizens. These tools might assist you in keeping your loved ones safe.

Provides information and resources about elder abuse.

The U.S. Department of Justice website will walk you through how to report elder abuse and financial exploitation.

If you are concerned your loved one is susceptible to financial abuse, you might consider becoming a financial caregiver. As a financial caregiver, you will handle financial matters such as bill payments and other pertinent financial decisions that will be in the best interest of your elderly loved one. This position as a caregiver will have legal standing to make sound choices when listed as a power of attorney or a guardian.

At Blakey Hall, we consistently monitor and look for indicators that residents at our facility might be at risk for financial abuse whether it is through outside scammers or sadly from a friend or family member. When these instances happen, we take the proper steps and follow the policies listed in our handbook to attempt to restore any lost finances and protect the resident moving forward.


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