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Elder Financial Abuse: What it is and How to Protect your Loved Ones

What is elder financial abuse?

As the population ages, seniors are increasingly becoming targets of financial abuse. People over the age of 50 control 70% of the nation’s wealth, and those who are frail or otherwise vulnerable may be susceptible to scams and other forms of financial exploitation. A recent report estimated that the elderly lose $36 billion each year – an average of $30,000 per senior – to financial abuse.

As defined by the Older Americans Act, “financial exploitation is the fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized or improper actions by a caregiver, fiduciary or other individual in which the resources of an older person are used by another for personal profit or gain; or actions that result in depriving an older person of the benefits, resources, belongings or assets to which they are entitled.”

Examples of elder financial abuse include:

  • Theft or misuse of money or property, often by a caregiver or in-home helper.
  • Exploitation by an agent under Power of Attorney or by a person in a fiduciary relationship.
  • Investment fraud and scams, including deceptive “free-lunch seminars” selling unnecessary or fraudulent financial services or products.
  • Lottery and sweepstakes scams.
  • Scams by telemarketers, mail offers or door-to-door salespersons.
  • Computer and Internet scams.
  • Identity theft.
  • Reverse mortgage fraud.
  • Contractor fraud and home improvement scams.
  • Sweetheart scams, whereby a person professes love for the senior and asks for or receives money and other valuable gifts.

Who commits senior financial abuse?

The vast majority of abusers are family members, most often adult children, spouses and partners. Others who financially exploit elders include:

  • Friends, neighbors or acquaintances.
  • People who have Power of Attorney or legal authority to access or manage the senior’s finances.
  • Financial advisers.
  • Telephone and mail scammers.
  • Internet scammers.
  • Medicare scam operators.
  • Home repair contractors.
  • Other persons known or unknown to the older adult.

Who is at risk?

Financial exploitation occurs across all social, educational and economic boundaries. Anyone can be a victim, but the following circumstances or conditions, especially in combination, may increase the risk.

The senior may:

  • Have regular income and accumulated assets.
  • Not realize the current value of their assets.
  • Be unfamiliar with managing financial matters, especially using advanced technology.
  • Be unprepared for retirement and the potential loss of financial decision-making capacity.
  • Be trusting and polite.
  • Be lonely and socially isolated.
  • Be vulnerable due to grief from the loss of a spouse, family member, friend or pet.
  • Have cognitive impairments that affect financial decision-making and judgement.
  • Be dependent on support from a family member or caregiver to remain independent.
  • Be receiving care from someone with substance abuse, gambling or financial problems.
  • Be dependent on a family member, caregiver or other person who may pressure them for money or control of their finances.
  • Be reluctant to report financial abuse by a family member, caregiver or someone else they depend on.
  • Fear retaliation by the abuser.

What are the warning signs of financial abuse?

There are often warning signs that abuse has occurred, but no single indicator can be taken as conclusive proof. Look for patterns that suggest a problem, such as:

  • Suspicious signatures on checks, credit card receipts and other documents.
  • Surprising new “best friends.”
  • Unexplained large or frequent ATM or bank account withdrawals or transfers.
  • Bank statements or canceled checks that no longer go to the senior’s home.
  • Unexplained changes to Powers of Attorney, wills, deeds, trusts or other legal documents.
  • Unpaid bills, eviction notices, notices to discontinue utilities or notices of non-sufficient funds.
  • Missing belongings.
  • Absence of documentation about financial arrangements.
  • A caregiver who expresses excessive interest in the elder’s finances.

Why don’t older adults report financial exploitation?

There are many reasons why seniors don’t report financial abuse. They may:

  • Be ashamed to admit that they have been financially exploited.
  • Be reluctant to report a family member, caregiver or other person who may otherwise treat them well.
  • Worry about losing their independence by being declared incompetent and moved into a “nursing home.”
  • Be completely dependent on the abuser for care or assistance.
  • Fear retaliation by the exploiter.
  • Be unwilling or unable to acknowledge that financial exploitation is happening to them.
  • Blame themselves, believing they deserved or caused the abuse.
  • Be unaware that they are being exploited.
  • Be uncertain as to whom they can report financial exploitation.

What should you do if someone you know is a victim of elder financial abuse?

If you believe that a senior has been financially exploited, take the following steps.

  • If the loss involves funds held in a financial institution, report the suspected abuse to the bank or credit union as soon as possible.
  • Contact the local police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate identify theft.
  • Report it to the local Adult Protective Services Office or the National Center on Elder Abuse. Find contact information at www.eldercare.gov, a public service provided by the US Administration on Aging, or by calling 1-800-677-1116.
  • If you believe the person is in danger or that a crime has been committed, call 911.

How to protect yourself.

You can take steps to safeguard your personal information and prevent financial abuse.

  • Tear up or shred credit card receipts, unused credit card offers, bank statements, unused credit health records and financial records before disposing of them in the trash.
  • Never give your Social Security number, bank account numbers, credit card information or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
  • Securely store your checkbook, bank statements, credit card statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.
  • Order free copies of your credit report once a year to ensure accuracy. Correct errors immediately.
  • Take care of your health.
  • Seek professional help for drug and alcohol problems as well as depression and urge family members to do the same.
  • Stay active in the community and connected with friends and family to decrease loneliness and isolation.
  • Plan for your future with a Power of Attorney or a living will.
  • Review your will and other important legal and financial documents periodically.
  • Seek independent advice from someone you trust before making a large purchase or investment or signing legal or financial documents. Don’t be pressured or intimidated into immediate decisions and don’t sign anything you don’t completely understand.
  • Post and open your own mail.
  • Have and use your own phone.
  • If possible, put away or safely store valuable possessions when others will be in your home.
  • If you hire someone for personal assistance or in home care services, ensure that they have been properly screened with criminal background checks completed.
  • Know your rights. If you engage the services of a paid or family caregiver, you have the right to voice your preferences and concerns. If you live in a nursing home, call your Long Term Care Ombudsman. The ombudsman is your advocate and has the power to intervene.

For more information about preventing financial exploitation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Money Smart for Older Adults and the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s Elder Fraud and Financial Exploitation resources.

If you would like to talk with a Revere Bank representative, call 866-920-8185.

This publication does not constitute legal, accounting or other professional advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither the publisher nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. Websites not belonging to this organization are provided for information only. No endorsement is implied.

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