Financial exploitation of the elderly is a serious and often underreported problem. Financial exploitation of the elderly occurs when a person misuses or takes the assets of an elderly person and uses it for their own benefit.
Some examples include cashing an elderly person’s checks without their knowledge or permission, forging their signatures, deceiving them into signing certain documents or making withdrawals without permission from their bank account with the elderly person’s ATM card. Also, according to research, 90% of the perpetrators are family members or trusted others.
According to recent research, 1 in 20 older adults indicated that some type of perceived financial mistreatment occurred in the recent past. However, elderly financial exploitation is vastly underreported as only one in 44 cases of financial exploitation is ever reported. Almost one in ten victims of financial mistreatment will turn to Medicaid because of the fact that their money and assets were stolen from them.
Also, cognitive impairment and the need for help with activities of daily living makes victims more vulnerable to financial exploitation. Financial exploitation frequently happens without the explicit knowledge and consent of a senior and as mentioned previously, the perpetrators typically involve individuals who are known and trusted by the elderly person such as:
- Family members;
- Friends and acquaintances; and/or
- Doctors or nurses.
Among the ways that family members and trusted persons financially exploit the elderly include the following:
- Using the power of attorney, which is given by the elderly person to handle their finances, as a license to steal the victim’s money for the perpetrator’s own use.
- Taking advantage of joint bank accounts to the perpetrator’s advantage.
- Using ATM cards and stealing checks to withdraw money from the victim’s accounts
- In-home care providers:
- Keeping change from errands;
- Paying bills which don’t belong to the elderly person;
- Asking the elderly person to sign falsified time sheets;
- Spending their work time on the phone; and
- Not doing what they are paid to do.
However, scams and frauds which involve strangers are also quite common. Among the commonly reported forms of financial exploitation include the following:
- Theft, which involves assets taken without knowledge, consent or authorization.
- Real estate fraud, which includes unauthorized sales, transfers and changes to property titles.
- Scams which involve roof repair, yard work or home repair.
- Grandparent scams such as receiving a call which says that your grandson is in jail and needs you to send money immediately.
- Identity theft which includes credit cards that are opened fraudulently.
- Lottery scams, which include payments to collect unclaimed property or prizes from lotteries or sweepstakes.
- Electronic fraud, which include emails which try to trick persons into disclosing their bank passwords.
- Scams involving mortgages, investment plans and insurance policies.
- Medicare scams.
- Predatory lending which includes putting pressure on seniors to take out inappropriate reverse mortgages or other loans.
The effects of financial exploitation on an elderly person are quite serious and the individual frequently experiences:
- Loss of security;
- Loss of trust in others;
- Depression and feelings of fear, shame, guilt, anger, self-doubt, remorse and worthlessness;
- Loss of primary residence;
- Financial destitution;
- The inability to replace lost assets through employment;
- The inability to hire an attorney to pursue legal protections and remedies.
There are some warning signs of financial exploitation such as:
- The unexplained disappearance of cash, valuable objects and financial statements.
- Any unexplained or unauthorized changes to wills or other estate documents.
- The giving away of money or excessive spending.
- The appearance of property liens or foreclosure notices.
- The oversight of finances surrendered to others without explanation or consent.
Interventions to address financial exploitation of the elderly include closing joint bank accounts, having the victim revoke the power of attorney, having a responsible person or agency to assist with managing the victim’s funds and reducing the isolation of victims by connecting them with agencies that can assist them. Also, another effective way is to work closely with banks to recognize, report and investigate financial exploitation and involve law enforcement when necessary.
If you suspect financial exploitation of an elderly person, it is important to contact a family law attorney before proceeding. It is also important that you contact Adult Protective Services, local law enforcement, and whatever institution manages the senior’s finances.