Let’s start with a definition. Financial elder abuse, also known as material exploitation, is the illegal or improper use of an elderly person’s funds, property, or assets. Examples of this type of abuse include, but are not limited to:
- Cashing an elderly person’s checks without authorization or permission
- Forging an older person’s signature
- Misuse or theft of an older person’s money or possessions
- Deceiving or coercing an older person into signing any document, such as a contract, will, title, etc.
- Telemarketing scams. This can involve making exaggerated claims about investment returns, scare tactics and other fraudulent acts to get seniors to send the perpetrator money or credit card information
- The improper use of conservatorship or power of attorney
It is estimated that every year some five million seniors fall victim to financial elder abuse. The number of victims may well be considerably higher. Many seniors are unaware that the financial abuse is taking place, while others are unwilling to report it out of embarrassment or fear for their safety.
Maybe you suspect that an elderly family member or loved one is being subjected to some form of financial abuse but are not sure. Here are a few signs to look for:
- Sudden changes in bank account balances or banking practices, particularly unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money when the older person is accompanied by another individual
- Additional names being included on bank signature cards
- Unauthorized withdrawal of the elder’s funds using his or her ATM card
- Sudden changes to a will, trust, power of attorney, or other financial document
- Disappearance of funds or valuable possessions that the elder person can’t explain or refuses to discuss (perhaps out of fear)
- The elder person receives substandard care or accumulates unpaid bills even though adequate financial resources are available
- Discovery of a forged signature for financial transactions or the titles of the elder person’s possessions
- Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives who claim to have rights to the elder person’s affairs and possessions
- Sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family that the elder person can’t or won’t explain
- Provision of services to an elder person that do not seem to be necessary
Sadly, financial elder abuse is often perpetrated by the senior’s own family, including sons, daughters, grandchildren and spouses. Abusers also include predators, such as people professing to have fallen in love with the elderly person or marketing themselves as personal caretakers. Unscrupulous professionals and business owners often take advantage of the elderly by charging more for services, recommending unnecessary services or taking money up front for services that are never provided.