Financial abuse of the elderly is becoming increasingly prevalent as the U.S. population grows older.
Abuse of this nature usually involves individuals scamming or taking advantage of the elderly in order to steal the elder’s property or financial assets. The culprit of these crimes is often someone the elderly person trusts, such as a friend, relative, or caregiver.
What Types of Financial Abuse Can the Elderly Face?
There are many types of financial abuse that can occur in relation to elderly persons. A typical financial scam involves an elderly person being tricked to hand over their life’s savings. Scams used for this purpose may involve fake charities, investments, or home repairs. Such scams may also cause the elder person to lose their assets, such as their home or automobile.
Undue influence is often used by the abuser to compel the elder to change their will or otherwise grant assets to the abuser. This is where the perpetrator of the abuse uses pressure, threats, or other unreasonable methods to force the person to enter into an agreement with them or hand over their money or assets.
Internet fraud and online scams often target the elderly population. This is because elderly persons can sometimes be unfamiliar with newer technologies and means of communication, such as email. Elderly persons are often contacted online or through email, where they may be presented with false information that is designed to steal their important financial information.
For instance, an online scam might ask the elder person for their social security number, bank account info, date of birth, and other information that is used in connection with finances. While these are usually accomplished by strangers, the internet can also be used by relatives, friends, and other people to gain influence or control over an elderly relative.
What are the Signs of Elder Financial Abuse?
Some of the signs of financial abuse include:
- The older person is living at a standard that is far below his or her financial means;
- Reports of strange and improper bank account activity;
- There are unexplainable gaps in bank account amounts;
- Unpaid or overdue bills;
- Extravagant gifts to the caregiver or other person made with some frequency;
- Isolation of the older person by the caregiver, relative, or friend, from others; and/or
- The elderly person is confused, concerned, or worried about their finances.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is if the elderly person lacks basic things like heating or food. These might be very basic essentials that they can explain away, like they aren’t cold or they are going to go shopping soon.
How Can You Prevent Elderly Financial Abuse?
Elderly persons are frequently target to become victims of scams for several reasons, including:
- They are sometimes affected by dementia and other conditions that can affect their ability to make conscious decisions for themselves;
- They often have accumulated a decent amount of savings and assets for themselves over time;
- They often have a regular source of income, such as a monthly pension check;
- They often live in seclusion or apart from their family; and/or
- They can often be accessed or reached directly at a nursing or retirement home.
Thus, prevention of financial abuse should begin by recognizing whether there are any conditions that would make the elderly person a specific target.
To minimize the risk of financial abuse, you can place limits on the power of attorney and the powers held by the agent under the power of attorney. One way to reduce the agent’s power is to compel the agent to submit an annual accounting to an attorney or financial planner.
It is also helpful to have many people, including family members and financial professionals, participate in the decision-making process concerning the older person. Measures should be taken to lessen isolation of the elderly person, who may be more susceptible to fraudulent people if few or no friends and family members are in contact.
Above all, checking on your loved one regularly is the best way to keep track of any serious/drastic changes that might be severely impacting their lives.
What are the Legal Consequences of Financial Abuse of the Elderly?
Financially abusing an elderly person can result in some serious legal consequences. In many instances, a civil lawsuit may be filed in order to recover any lost money or property that was experienced by the victim. For instance, this can help compensate for lost bank account amounts, unauthorized uses of credit cards, stolen property, and other assets.
Also, criminal charges can often result in connection with financial abuse of the elderly, especially if property theft or identity theft was involved. These can result in additional legal consequences, including criminal fines and fees, and possible time in jail or prison, depending on the circumstances. Usually, the greater the amount stolen and the level of deception/theft, the longer the sentence will be.
Should I Consult an Attorney for Assistance with Elder Financial Abuse?
If you or someone you know has been the victim of elder financial abuse, then consult a family law attorney who can advise you as to what course of action to take. An attorney can provide you with advice on how to proceed, and can assist you in court as well.