Protecting the Elderly: Warning Signs of Financial Abuse

Financial exploitation of the elderly is a serious problem. In the United States 5% of the elderly experience financial abuse each year. However, there are steps you can take to recognize and protect your loved ones.

What exactly is financial elder abuse? Elder abuse can describe any act which causes harm or distress to an older person, particularly when there is an expectation of trust. That abuse is financial abuse when it involves taking or misusing the victim’s assets for personal gain.

What are the warning signs of financial abuse? You should to be concerned and take action if you notice of any of the following:

– Sudden change in bank accounts and large withdrawals

– Unaccounted use of ATM card

– Abrupt changes in Will or other financial documents

– Disappearance of valuable possessions

– Discovery of forged signatures for financial transactions

– Provision of services that are not necessary

– Unexplained transfer of assets

Who perpetrates financial abuse of the elderly? Offenders are often family members or people who have been but into a position of financial trust. However, it is also possible for abuse to come from strangers, phone and internet scammers, and acquaintances.

Why are the elderly targets for financial abuse? Older adults may exhibit the following traits that may make them more vulnerable: disorganization and misplacement of financial documents, decline in ability to manage checkbook, loss of judgement about investment and use of money, and confusion about basic financial terms and concepts.

What should I do if I suspect something? First, speak to your loved one. Reassure them of your concern and that there are protective measures to keep older adults safe.

Next, contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) local to the victim. APS is primarily responsible for responding to reports of elder abuse. You can find their phone number and other contact information on the internet, or in a local phone book. Be prepared to give your loved one’s name, address, contact information, and the details of your concern. It is often possible to make a report anonymously, but it is more useful to APS if they have a way to remain in contact with you.

Depending on the situation, law enforcement may also need to be involved.

Remember, you are the best source of protection for your loved one. Older people are very unlikely to self-report due to fear, embarrassment, or shame. Family members are the most common source of reports. Your responsibility is to be aware of the warning signs and take appropriate next steps.