Elder financial abuse: How to identify it and what to do

Elder financial abuse or exploitation happens to millions of elderly adults every year. You may be unaware of this exploitation and not discover it before it is too late. Here are a few tips on how to spot this abuse and what you can do to protect your elderly loved ones.

What is elder financial abuse?

Elder financial abuse happens when someone uses the financial information of an older adult without their consent. It can be committed by an unknown person or even a close friend, family member or caretaker. Older people are targeted because they may have more assets, be more vulnerable or trusting or be less aware of common scams.

Some things that are considered elder financial abuse are:

  • Stealing money or other assets from an elderly person
  • Forging checks or other legal documents such as insurance policies or power of attorney
  • Convincing an older person to make investments or contribute to charities that are not in their best interests
  • Persuading an older person to change their will or using influence to take control of their assets. 

Examples of elder financial abuse

Sometimes older people need assistance in their day-to-day lives, and some may not be very socially active. Predators take advantage of older peoples’ loneliness, immobility or inability to comprehend what is happening. Scammers may gain access to older people’s personal and financial data by using fraudulent tactics or threatening force. Through phone scans, they may misrepresent themselves as government officials or family members or attempt to sell non-existent products. 

Sometimes the person committing the financial abuse is known to the victim. A trusted family member or caregiver may gain access to an individual’s financial information and withdraw money or make charges that the older person is unaware of and has not consented to.

Signs that your elderly family member is being financially abused or exploited

It may be difficult to detect financial abuse if your loved one has been threatened or is embarrassed by having made the mistake of giving out their private information. Look out for these signs that your loved one is a victim of financial abuse:

  • Abnormal banking transactions, such as large withdrawals or hefty credit card bills
  • Missing personal property
  • Unpaid bills 
  • A noticeable change in spending habits
  • Changes in the will or estate plan
  • Personality and physical changes such as sullenness, bruising, or acting jittery or frightened — people who are being financially abused may become withdrawn or isolate themselves from loved ones

What to do if you suspect elder financial abuse

If you suspect that an elderly loved one is being financially abused or exploited, begin by talking to them about the incident without judgment. If you suspect that your loved one was coerced into changing their estate plan, contact their attorney.

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