Elder Financial Abuse
Elder financial abuse is stealing, mishandling or coercing funds or property from an older adult. Manipulating an older adult into changing official documents, like a will, is another form of financial abuse. Learn who is at risk and how to prevent elder financial abuse to protect you and your loved ones. If you suspect you are being financially abused, learn about the available resources to report an abuser.
What Is Elder Financial Abuse?
Elder financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Stealing, misusing or manipulating an older adult’s money, property or altering their documents all fall under the umbrella of elder financial abuse.
- Threatening or pressuring an older adult to make payments to the abuser
- Phone or online scams
- Denying an older adult access to their funds and assets
- Stealing property or cash from an older adult’s home
- Tricking an older adult to change important documents in their favor, like a will or deed to their home
- Using an older adult’s funds without their consent
- Promising caregiving assistance for payment and then providing no services
While all older adults are at risk of financial exploitation, there are some that are more targeted than others. Learning who is most at risk can help you ensure the safety of yourself and others.
Who Is at Risk?
If you’re over fifty — even if you’re not considered an “elder” by any terms — you may still be at risk of financial abuse. This is because those over 50 years old control over 70% of the nation’s wealth, according to the American Bankers Association.
There are several other factors, on top of your age, that can attract scammers.
If you live isolated, suffer from a disability, mental illness or have memory issues, then you are at a higher risk for elder financial abuse.
Who Commits It?
Financial abusers are typically in a position of power over the older adult. This includes family members, new friends, online scammers, caretakers and medical professionals.
At the end of the day, trust your gut if a financial exchange seems suspicious. Financial abusers use different tactics. Some will be outright and threaten to hurt or neglect you to receive funds while others may pretend to be your friend or steal quietly.
If you assume someone is financially abusing you, reflect upon the signs of abuse. If you feel you’ve experienced any of the signs of financial abuse, you should take the next steps to report your abuser.
What Are the Signs of Financial Abuse?
There are different signs of financial abuse, whether you believe you’re being financially abused or if you suspect a loved one is at risk.
If you believe you’re a victim of elder financial abuse, refer to the list below. If you’ve taken note of any of the signs listed, then you should contact a trusted loved one or professional immediately to help you report the incident.
- Being pressured to change your will, power of attorney or deeds
- Strangers claiming to be from charities asking for money from you
- Unexplained bank activity with large sums missing
- Unpaid bills and overdrawn accounts
- Credit cards, debit cards or cash going missing
- Being coerced into giving family members or caregivers money
If you are not being financially abused, but you suspect a loved one is, then there are other signs to look out for. If the older adult has a new “best friend” they spend large amounts of money on — for trips or other extravagant gifts — you should investigate further. Are they really a new friend or is the older adult being taken advantage of?
If the older adult has a caretaker, and you suspect malicious intent, then question both of them — even if it’s a family member. Is the older adult aware of any financial abuse? Offering caretaker services for payment and then providing little to no services is a form of elder abuse. This is often paired with guilting tactics as well. If you find the caretaker is committing financial abuse, remove them immediately and report the abuse.
What Are the Effects of Financial Abuse?
The biggest effect of financial abuse is risking financial ruin. This can lead to many detrimental problems, like inability to pay for proper care, health insurance and treatments — which can ultimately lead to death.
Another effect of financial abuse is the emotional toll. Having someone you trust betray and steal from you can be detrimental to your mental health. Older adults will likely become depressed or anxious after being financially abused, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.
How Can You Protect Yourself Against Financial Abuse?
Having more than one individual available to help handle or overlook your finances can protect you from financial abuse, especially if you have memory issues. Since family members are most likely to financially abuse an older adult, it’s best to have a professional help you with your finances as well.
There are other precautions you can take to protect yourself against financial abuse.
- Have a financial advisor that knows your financial goals and has the legal documents to protect them
- Shred important legal documents, like receipts and bank statements
- Keep sensitive information, like your checkbook, in a secure location
- Never share personal information, especially your Social Security number or any banking information
- Don’t isolate yourself — keep in contact with a group of friends and family you trust
- Check your bank statements and valuables regularly
- Confirm credentials and references before hiring anyone for any job within your home
What Should You Do If You’ve Been Financially Abused?
If you are in a state of emergency, such as the abuser threatening to hurt you for money, call 911 right away. If you are not in danger but have been financially abused, then there are three simple steps that can help you.
- If you live with the abuser, get them removed immediately and ask for help from someone you trust.
- If needed, secure your bank account to stop further financial abuse.
- Report the abuse.
Step three is the most important because it is the first step to rescuing your funds and becoming protected again. Even though financial abuse is the most reported type of elder abuse, only one out of every 44 cases of financial elder abuse are reported.
You can call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833–FRAUD–11 or 833–372–8311 to report financial abuse. There is also a state specific hotline with the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), that can give you more specific information regarding your financial abuse.
NAPSA has an Adult Protective Services program list available to give you resources for each state. This program list has phone numbers and an email for each state to report elderly abuse and get further information.
If you’re looking into resources about elder financial abuse, but struggling to find the right information, the U.S. Department of Justice has an online roadmap quiz. The quiz will ask you about your financial abuse, then connect you with a resource specifically tailored to your situation.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has online guides available that cover a wide range of topics about financial abuse. Several examples include information about the Power of Attorney, responsibilities of a financial caregiver and government fiduciaries.
8 Cited Research Articles
- National Council on Aging. (2021, February 23). Get the Facts on Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/get-the-facts-on-elder-abuse
- Hafemeister, T. (n.d.). Financial Abuse of the Elderly in Domestic Setting. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK98784/#:~:text=The%20widely%20cited%20profile%20of,women%20(Dessin%2C%202000)
- American Bankers Association. (n.d.). Protect the Elderly from Financial Exploitation. Retrieved from https://www.aba.com/advocacy/community-programs/consumer-resources/protect-your-money/elderly-financial-abuse
- Bureau of Justice Statistics. (n.d.) Elder Abuse Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/file/1098056/download
- Office for Victims of Crime. (n.d.). Elder Fraud & Abuse. Retrieved from https://ovc.ojp.gov/program/elder-fraud-abuse/related-resources
- National Adult Protective Services Association. (n.d.). APS Program List. Retrieved from https://www.napsa-now.org/aps-program-list/
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (n.d.). Managing Someone Else’s Money. Retrieved from https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/managing-someone-elses-money/
- U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.). Elder Abuse Resource Roadmap – Financial. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/roadmap