How to Prevent Financial Abuse of Elders

Elder financial abuse is a serious and widespread issue. Studies have estimated that this abuse costs victims billions of dollars each year, and that number is anticipated to continue to grow as technology advances. Many victims of elder financial abuse are residents of nursing homes. We trust nursing homes with the care and well-being of our aging relatives. Unfortunately, sometimes that trust is misplaced. Nursing home residents are often vulnerable to deception, and some may not even be aware that they have been the victim of financial abuse. Consider these signs to prevent the financial abuse of elders in your life.

What is financial elder abuse?

Financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of someone else’s funds, assets, or property. This, of course, includes the theft of money or possessions, but in cases of elder abuse, it can be much more subtle. Financial abuse of elders may involve cashing checks without their permission or even forging their signature. Financial abusers may pressure or trick elders into signing a document like a contract or will. Improper use of power of attorney is another form of financial abuse; this document authorizes someone to act in the resident’s stead if they should be incapable. In the hands of an untrustworthy person, this power can be extremely damaging. Financial exploitation also falls under the category of financial abuse; friends and relatives borrowing money with no intention of paying it back, doctors charging for unnecessary medications or treatments, and scammers encouraging donations to causes that do not exist can cause real financial and emotional damage to the victim.

Who commits financial abuse of elders?

Anyone with access to a nursing home resident could potentially commit financial abuse. Oftentimes this abuse is carried out by service professionals, like facility caregivers, who have a significant amount of unsupervised time with the resident and a certain level of power over them. However, while it can be tempting to imagine elder financial abuse being perpetrated only by unscrupulous employees, family members or close friends may also take advantage of an elder. This can often be seen when a friend or relative is granted power of attorney and uses their control of finances and assets inappropriately.

What are the warning signs of financial elder abuse?

Financial abuse is especially insidious because it can be so subtle. Sometimes, even the victim does not realize that it’s happening. Family and caregivers should be vigilant and aware of financial changes that might indicate abuse. Abrupt and unexplained withdrawals from banking accounts or unexpected transfers are telltale warning signs, as is the disappearance of personal items. An elder who is being financially abused may also suddenly become unwilling to discuss financial matters or seem to be living below their level of resources. Even if they are aware of the abuse, many victims of financial abuse are ashamed to have fallen prey to an abuser and may try to conceal it from family members. It is also common that victims develop paranoia and struggle to trust anyone else.

How do I prevent financial elder abuse?

The best thing a friend or relative can do in this situation is to stay alert and involved. Isolation makes it significantly easier for elders to be taken advantage of. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs described above, and do not hesitate to seek out help or further investigation if you suspect something may be awry. It is also a good idea to involve more than one person in major financial decisions to ensure that no single person has complete control over the resident’s finances. You can also limit the potential opportunities for financial abuse to occur by automating bill payments when possible and direct depositing checks. Most banks and financial institutions are also able to monitor accounts for suspicious behavior.

When choosing a nursing facility or hiring a caretaker, make sure to check reviews and speak to references to ensure that your relative is in good hands. If you feel that your loved one is at particular risk for financial abuse, you may also consider hiring a geriatric care manager to oversee all aspects of care, including financial management.

If you suspect that financial abuse has already occurred, an elder abuse attorney will be able to advise you and help you attempt to recover costs lost to abuse and exploitation. It is always tragic to see someone taking advantage of a vulnerable person, but you can help prevent elder financial abuse if you are aware of the warning signs.


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