How do you spot financial abuse by a caregiver?

A lot of seniors need to rely on in-home caregivers as they start to mentally and physically decline, usually because they hope to age in place. Unfortunately, that can leave them ripe for financial exploitation. 

Finding a trustworthy caregiver isn’t easy. According to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one in every nine cases of elder financial abuse involves non-family caregivers. Sometimes seniors put misplaced faith in a neighbor or acquaintance who volunteers to “help” them, and other times they find caregivers through want ads or social media forums instead of agencies. Even agencies, however, sometimes do little screening on the caregivers they hire beyond basic criminal background checks. The entire industry is poorly regulated.

Since the average financial loss to a senior who experiences economic abuse by a nonfamily caregiver is $57,800, it pays to keep a close eye on the situation with your loved one. Here are four common signs that can indicate trouble:

Unexplained financial transactions 

If your loved one suddenly seems to need more cash than usual or they’re making frequent cash withdrawals from their bank without any clear explanation as to where the money is going, that’s a huge red flag. This is especially true if you believe that their caregiver has been escorting them to the bank or has access to your loved one’s ATM card.

New credit cards and expensive purchases

If your elderly loved one was always conservative with their money or credit, expensive purchases and a sudden influx of credit cards could be a troubling sign. They may have been tricked into opening new lines of credit (for their caregiver to use) without really understanding what is happening.

Isolation and control

If someone is trying to hide their financial abuses, it’s easier to do when the victim is kept separated from anybody who might ask too many questions. If the caregiver is suddenly intercepting your loved one’s mail, monitoring or limiting phone calls and visits, that is an indication that they’re being isolated. You may need to be particularly concerned if your loved one is suddenly antagonistic toward everybody but their new-found friend, since that’s a sign the caregiver may be using physiological tactics to manipulate your senior’s affections.

Missing assets and unpaid bills

Utility shut-off notices, unpaid property tax bills and the like can all be an indication that a senior has lost control of their finances – especially if they should have sufficient funds to cover their expenses. Their caregiver may be siphoning away the money that’s supposed to go to routine bills. Similarly, missing jewelry, antiques, coins and other small valuables are a common sign that someone is stealing from a senior who has memory issues or is largely confined to a bed or chair.

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