We know that as people age, they can become the targets of scams, identity theft, and other life-altering crimes. Financial exploitation is one common threat that plagues the elderly. In fact, it is one of the top five types of elder victimization, according to a 2020 report from the Office for Victims of Crime. Elder financial abuse is a big problem with many faces.
Think about your own family. You probably have a few older loved ones whom you want to keep safe from the evils of the world, so they can enjoy their golden years in peace. How can you protect your aging family members from elder financial exploitation? Read on to find out.
What is Elder Financial Exploitation?
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse in general is the mistreatment of an older person. Elders can be at higher risk of abuse because they often rely on other people to help care for them physically or financially. While we all want to assume the best of people, some “caretakers” have criminal intentions for their patients. Even if an elder is perfectly healthy and able to live on their own, their adult children or close friends may still try to take advantage of them simply because of their age.
Elder abuse can take many different forms:
- Physical abuse: An abuser can cause bodily harm to an elder with slapping, pushing, etc. or by physically restraining them against their will.
- Psychological abuse: An abuser can emotionally harm an elder with insults, threats, and lies, and by restricting their access to loved ones.
- Sexual abuse: An abuser can involve the elder in sexual acts against their will. Clearly, this can cause great emotional and physical damage to the elder.
- Neglect or abandonment: An abuser can ignore the elder’s basic needs until the elder is caused harm by this neglect. The abuser can also simply leave the elder alone for extended periods of time, which is dangerous if the elder is not able to care for themselves.
- Financial abuse: An abuser who has access to the elder’s money can take advantage by using these finances for their own selfish gain. This is the type of abuse we will continue to focus on for this article.
Financial abuse of elderly people is defined as someone illegally obtaining and using an elder’s money or possessions. To count as elder abuse, the victim must be 60 years of age or older. Financial elder abuse can wreck the lives of victims and their loved ones. Unfortunately, the criminals who take advantage of elders in this way are often close friends or family members of the victims.
Signs of Financial Abuse of Elderly
The first step to recognizing elder financial abuse is to know the risk factors. Take a thorough look at the elders in your life. Do they seem lonely? Isolation can put your loved one at risk of exploitation because they are eager to receive the friendly advances of a potential predator.
Is your older loved one cognitively impaired due to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or simply age-related cognitive decline? Abusers will take advantage of these factors, since they could make an elder more susceptible to suggestion and manipulation.
Does the elder in your life have physical needs due to a health condition? If they are dependent on others for their care, they are at greater risk of becoming the victim of an abuser who professes to “care” for them.
Now that you’ve taken stock of your elderly loved one’s situation, check this list to see if you’ve noticed any of these warning signs of ongoing financial abuse:
- Have they recently made a new friend who seems possessive or overly protective of them?
- Are they suddenly spending large amounts of money or regularly giving it away?
- Do they have a thorough understanding of their own finances, or do they trust someone else with that important information?
- Have they made big changes to their estate planning documents to benefit new individuals?
- Are they able to explain where and how their money is being used?
- Are they up to date on their bills, or have their utilities been cut off because they have not been paying them lately?
- Have they recently transferred ownership of important possessions like homes, vehicles, or financial accounts without adequate explanation?
Reporting Elder Financial Abuse
As with any situation involving money, it is a delicate but important process to protect your elderly loved one from the financial exploitation they may be experiencing. Start by having conversations with the elder. Ask them questions to gain understanding of their position. Talking to them can also help them better know what’s going on and how they can get help.
Once you understand the situation, you can start gathering evidence. Check if you can collect receipts, bills, and other paperwork that clearly shows misuse of money. Will the elderly person let you view their estate planning documents like Wills and Trusts? This could help you prove that the abuser is finagling their way into your loved one’s good graces. See if other close friends or family members can work with you to help gather evidence.
If your elderly loved ones agrees, start contacting their bank, credit union, or other financial institutions to get info about their recent spending habits. The institution may be able to confirm or lay to rest your suspicions, as well as take steps to stop the abuser’s access to the elder’s money. It is critical that you contact law enforcement to report the exploiter’s theft and abuse. You can also call the Adult Protective Services (APS) office in your area, which is specially designed to help investigate and fight elder abuse.
Steps to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse
The first step to protecting your elderly loved ones from financial exploitation is to recognize that they are vulnerable. You may be reluctant to admit that your family member needs extra help. But once you realize and accept this fact, you can better help them live a peaceful and safe life. Once you start the conversation with them, ask if they will give you permission to view their financial and estate planning activity to keep an eye on things.
Seek authorization with your aging family member’s financial institutions. See if you can simplify the financial processes they have in place, so you have fewer accounts to watch over. Keep your family member informed about the common ways that elders can get scammed or otherwise victimized by their so-called friends or caretakers.
The best way to protect your elderly loved ones from elder financial exploitation is to seek the advice of a dedicated provider lawyer from LegalShield. Our lawyers are committed to keeping you and your eligible family members safe when you sign up for a LegalShield family plan. You can get help with estate planning, including Wills and Durable Power of Attorney documents. Your LegalShield law firm can review paperwork, make phone calls or draft letters, and assist with other essential legal issues.
Have you considered looking into legal guardianship for your aging family members? Read our article on the purpose of a legal guardianship to help you decide.
Get the legal protection you need for your eligible family members with LegalShield’s personal and family legal plans.
Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. (“PPLSI”) provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to PPLSI members through membership-based participation. Neither PPLSI nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation, or advice. The information available in this blog is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations. The blog post is not a substitute for competent legal counsel from a licensed professional lawyer in the state or province where your legal issues exist, and the reader is strongly encouraged to seek legal counsel for your specific legal matter. Information contained in the blog may be provided by authors who could be third-party paid contributors. All information by authors is accepted in good faith, however, PPLSI makes no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability, or completeness of such information.