Do you know what the fastest growing form of elder abuse is? Financial exploitation. Financial exploitation has become one of the greatest threats to our most vulnerable segment of the population. It’s estimated that financial abuse costs our seniors more than $36 billion a year and is on the rise, affecting 1 in every 20 seniors. Though elder abuse of all forms is greatly underreported, the rate of self-reported financial abuse is higher than that of emotional, physical, sexual abuse or neglect.
Unfortunately, as much as 90% of financial abuse is perpetrated by family members or trusted individuals. The most vulnerable seniors often have cognitive impairment and/or need to rely on others for assistance with activities of daily living. Another reason seniors are often victims is because advances in technology have made managing finances more complicated. Seniors who are victims of financial abuse are 4 times more likely to go into a nursing home as a result of the loss of their assets or because they are seen as no longer able to take care of themselves.
Financial abuse takes many forms including scams, financial mismanagement, and out-right theft.
Ways Family or Friends May Exploit a Senior:
– Taking money or valuables out of the home when visiting
– Stealing checks or ATM card to withdraw cash / check fraud
– Using POA given by the victim to use funds for their own personal use
– Taking advantage of joint bank accounts by making withdrawals for own use (not benefitting the senior)
– Refusing to obtain needed care/ medical services in order to preserve assets for the abuser
– threatening the senior with abandonment if they do not pay for/ give money to abuser
Common Scams by Strangers:
– telemarketing scams (such as saying you owe money to the IRS)
– lottery scam
– home repair (senior pays for services that are over-priced, done poorly or not at all)
– call to grandparent stating grandchild is in jail and needs money ASAP
– phony charities asking for donations
Ways a Professional May Exploit a Senior:
– Medicare scams
– Identity theft (senior’s vital information used to establish credit cards / bank accts elsewhere)
– Internet phishing
– Pyramid schemes offering investments in non-existent products / unrealistic returns
– Predatory lending (pressuring senior into taking loans or reverse mortgage they don’t need)
One way to avoid your loved one from falling victim to financial exploitation and abuse is to plan ahead. While parents and grandparents are able to participate in advance planning with a trusted legal advisor, they should consider who to grant Power of Attorney and when. But sometimes planning ahead does not keep away the unscrupulous or those whose sole purpose is to steal from the vulnerable. Family, friends and those who work with seniors should be aware of the potential threats to seniors and how to tell when intervention may be needed.
Signs that may indicate a senior is being exploited are:
– Bills are going unpaid/ utilities may be shut off
– Change in banking habits/ dwindling savings, increased withdrawals
– Suspicious signature on checks or other legal documents
– Disappearance of possessions/ belongings & property missing
– Lack of basics (food, cleaning supplies etc)
– Missing checks from checkbook / misplaced credit cards
– Senior being threatened to sign documents or checks
– Observing the seniors being “chaperoned” by someone who won’t let the senior speak for themselves or visit with people without them present
– New acquaintance isolating them from friends and family
– New acquaintance claiming authority over finances without proper legal documentation
– Family avoiding care plan meetings/ implausible explanations given about elderly person’s finances
– The senior is unaware or does not understand financial arrangements that have been made on their behalf
– Known gambling, drug or alcohol problem of family / friend that is visiting often
What to do if you suspect someone is being financially exploited? If it’s your loved one, discuss your concerns with them but be aware they may be hesitant due to embarrassment. If you suspect someone outside your family may be being taken advantage of, call your local police, the state Elder Abuse Hotline or Eldercare Locator at (800) 677-1116 (a program sponsored by the US Department of Health & Human Services).
Where can I learn more?
• National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)
• Administration on Aging (AoA) Elder Rights Protection initiatives
• CFPB Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans
• Department of Justice Elder Justice Initiative
• Ageless Alliance
• Elder Financial Protection Network
• National Adult Protective Services Association