Financial Abuse

Financial Abuse of the Elderly

financial abuseFinancial abuse of the elderly can be perpetrated by people they know, or people they don’t know and it can happen in many different ways.

There are things you can look for if you suspect that financial abuse of an elderly loved one has occurred, and various steps you can take to assure that their finances are recovered and properly managed in the future.

Those who perpetrate financial abuse against an elderly patient often engage in the following behaviors:

  • Forging the elderly person’s signature on checks or other documents
  • Forcing the elderly person to sign a will, deed, or power of attorney listing the perpetrator as the one who is responsible for the elderly person or who will gain when the individual dies
  • Stealing property or money from the elderly person
  • Promising to give the elderly person lifelong care only if they give them money or their property
  • Using the possessions or property of the elderly person without their permission
  • Perpetrating fraud, which is the use of trickery, false pretenses, deception or other dishonest acts in order to gain the person’s finances
  • Perpetrating cons or other confidence games in order to gain the trust of the elderly person
  • Perpetrating telemarketing scams in which the elderly person is called and deception, exaggerated claims or scare tactics are used to get the elderly person to send them money
  • Charging things against the elderly person’s credit cards without the authorization of the cardholder

The Perpetrators of the Crime

The main perpetrators of financial abuse against the elderly can be relatives of the elderly person, their spouse, or someone else they hold in their confidence. These people will likely have the following characteristics:

  • They feel like the elderly person’s belongings are rightfully theirs, and they stand to inherit money or possessions when the elderly person dies.
  • They have financial difficulties, a tendency to gamble or have problems with illicit drugs or alcohol.
  • They may express fears that the elderly person will use up all of their savings money to care for illnesses, depriving the perpetrator of their inheritance.
  • They may feel negatively toward siblings or other family members and want to keep them from inheriting the possessions of the elderly person.

Predators may have other qualities that allow them to seek out and find vulnerable elders, intending to exploit them of their money or property. They may have these characteristics:

  • They may looking at obituaries to find those who have recently lost loved ones or may drive through neighborhoods, looking for people who are isolated and alone.
  • They may say that they love the older person to gain their confidence.
  • They may move around to different communities in order to avoid becoming detected.
  • They may try to gain access by finding jobs caring for elderly persons or masquerading as counselors.
  • They may use trusted positions as a way to gain the confidence of the elderly person.
  • They may use unfair business practices in order to deceive the elderly person.
  • They may charge too much for products or services the elderly person needs.

The Elderly Person at Risk

There are various risk factors that would put an elderly person at a higher chance of experiencing financial abuse. Characteristics of elderly people who are likely to be financial abused include:

  • They may be lonely
  • They may be isolated
  • They may have mental or physical disabilities
  • They may have lost someone recently
  • They may be unfamiliar with matters dealing with money
  • They may have relatives that are not employed but who have problems with substance abuse

Why Target The Elderly?

The elderly are attractive targets for financial abuse because they have the following characteristics:

  • They may be unfamiliar with technology and have problems managing their finances.
  • Perpetrators may assume that the elderly person is so frail that they won’t survive long enough to intervene legally once they are exploited.
  • The elderly may be severely debilitated so that they aren’t likely to take actions against the perpetrators.
  • The elderly may be embarrassed to go to authorities.
  • They may have predictable patterns and receive their social security checks at the same time of the month. Perpetrators can predict when the elderly person will be flush with cash.
  • The elderly person may have a disability that creates dependence on others. Those who help them may also be perpetrators of financial fraud against the elderly person.
  • The elderly person may not recognize that their assets have increased in value (particularly the value of their homes)
  • Older people tend to have more wealth than younger people.

Indicators of Financial Abuse against the Elderly

An indicator is a sign or clue that suggests abuse against an elder has occurred. Financial exploitation has its indicators as well. Exhibiting just one indicator may not be suggestive of a full-blown abuse, but if you see several, it may mean your loved one is being financially exploited.

Signs of financial abuse against the elderly include the following:

  • Canceled checks or bank statements that go to the perpetrator’s home
  • Large bank withdrawals or transfers between different accounts that can’t be explained
  • Eviction notices, evidence of unpaid bills or utilities being discontinued due to nonpayment
  • The perpetrator refers to the elder as their new “best friend”
  • The elder person’s care is substandard even when they can pay for it
  • There are ATM withdrawals the elderly person could not have made or other unexplained withdrawals
  • The elderly person is coerced to sign powers of attorney or other legal documents they didn’t understand.
  • The perpetrator shows an inordinate interest in how much money the victim is spending
  • There are missing belongings or property that is missing
  • There are forgeries on legal documents or on checks
  • Financial arrangements are sketchy and lack documentation
  • The explanations about the elder’s finances as explained by the perpetrator are implausible.
  • The elderly person does not know or understand their own financial situation.

Financial exploitation can be prevented by having a trusted lawyer manage the individual’s funds or by a family member being in charge of how the funds are allotted.

Resources:

  1. Financial Abuse. National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. http://www.preventelderabuse.org/elderabuse/fin_abuse.html. Accessed 3/16/2016.
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Dr. Christine Traxler

Christine Traxler, MD is a retired family practice physician, graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in 1986, and freelance writer, having worked with patients in rural Minnesota for two decades. She has written several books on medical topics and currently resides in Minneapolis, MN, where she works as a freelance writer on medical topics.

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