Elder Financial Abuse: Protecting Your Loved Ones From Harm
Protecting loved ones from elder financial abuse
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Elder Financial Abuse: Protecting Your Loved Ones From Harm

People over 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth. This makes elders prime targets for financial abuse and fraud. Read on to learn the signs of elder financial abuse.

What is financial abuse?

Elder financial abuse includes many behaviors. Taking money or property and forging the victim’s signature are fairly obvious offenses. Also, using deception, coercion, or undue influence to get an elder to sign a will, a deed, or a power of attorney qualifies. Many abusers close to the victims use possessions without permission and promise lifelong care in exchange for money or property. Elders often receive fraudulent calls from persons claiming to be distressed family members.

Why are elders targeted?

Many elders are unaware of the true value of their assets, especially those that have appreciated over time. They tend to have consistent  patterns and are likely to get a monthly check, making it easy to predict when they will have money or need to go to a bank. They are likely to have disabilities and be dependent on others for help. Abusers assume elderly victims will not live long enough to follow through on legal interventions, and elders are less likely to report their abuse due to embarrassment or illness.

Who commits elder financial abuse?

Unfortunately, the most common perpetrators of financial abuse of an elder are friends and family members. Most often, abusers feel they are justified in their actions, and they do not see it as abuse. They may have substance abuse, gambling, or financial problems that lead them into debt. If the abuser will inherit assets from their victim, they may also believe they are only taking what is “almost” or “rightfully” theirs. Perpetrators may have a negative relationship with the victim, leading them to a sense of entitlement. Similarly, they may have a negative relationship with another relative, and they will try to prevent that relative from receiving any inheritance.

In contrast, many abusers are predators looking for vulnerable seniors in order to take advantage of them. They may claim to fall in love with their elder victim and push them into leaving them a large portion of the elder’s estate. They may also try to become employed as care takers to gain access to their victim. Career abusers often find their victims by driving through neighborhoods or finding widows through newspaper obituaries.

What are the signs?

No one sign should be taken as conclusive proof of elder financial abuse. However, in combination, these signs warn loved ones ahead of time when elders are abused. Unpaid bills, eviction notices, and notices to discontinue utilities can indicate caretakers not paying the elder’s bills. Unusual bank activity the elder cannot explain often means someone else has access to their accounts. Also, accounts may be compromised if bank statements and cancelled checks do not come to the elder’s home. New “best friends” may be predators looking for a payday. Relatives should watch to make sure the quality of care is consistent with the size of the elder’s estate. The elder and caregivers should be able to give consistent, believable answers to questions about finances.

Who is at risk of elder financial abuse?

There are certain factors that make an elder a better target for financial abuse. Isolation and loneliness create a pathway for abusers, as well as recent losses. Elders without a working knowledge of financial matters are also prime targets. Finally, unemployed relatives and those with substance abuse issues are more likely to abuse their elderly relatives. It is often up to children and grandchildren to prevent their elderly loved ones from being taken advantage of.