Spot Financial Abuse of the Elderly

Posted by Steph Perine on May 07, 2019

As we get older, and as our family members age, there is a growing concern about being victimized by unseemly characters who prey on the elderly.  According to the U. S. Department of Justice, elder fraud is a growing problem. One must be able to identify the potential signs of financial abuse as well as take steps to help themselves, and their loved ones from falling victim to financial exploitation.

Identifying the Signs of Financial Abuse

Unfortunately for many vulnerable seniors, financial matters grow more complex and they are unable to manage on their own. Providing care for them may involve having to help them deal with everyday tasks including payment of regular bills. Whether the person who has this responsibility is a paid caretaker or a family member, it is imperative to keep a close watch for potential signs they may be being victimized financially.  A few of the changes you may notice include:

  • A sudden decrease in spending on essential items
  • A sudden increase in:
    • Late payment of regular bills (rent, utilities, etc.) and
    • The number of cash withdrawals from their bank account
  • Increase in spending resulting in unusual purchases
  • Interest expressed in changing powers of attorney or will

It is always a good idea to talk to your loved one if you spot any of these signs and take steps to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

Preventing Financial Exploitation 

While senior financial abuse is on the rise, it is possible to take steps to help minimize the risk of this problem. Some steps are easier to implement than others, but the more attention you can pay to your loved one’s finances, the less likely they are to be victimized.

Communication and regular visits whenever possible are the first steps to keeping your loved one safe. If you are unable to check in on them regularly, find a neighbor or trusted friend to check in on them.  Making sure your loved one feels safe talking to you about financial matters can go a long way. Sometimes, despite using caution, your loved one can still make a bad financial decision. Avoid passing judgment. Explain to them we all make bad financial decisions and help them learn to avoid a problem later.

Open communication allows you to discuss the wide range of scams and cons your loved one is facing from those who are less than ethical. Remember email scams, credit card scams, and investment scams are common ways the most vulnerable among us are targeted.

Estate Planning

While it will be a difficult subject, discuss estate planning matters with your loved one. This is a necessary and important step in understanding their financial status. In addition, this type of transparency usually means you can review their estate planning documents from time to time and review changes which may have been made. If there are any unusual changes, this could be a possible red flag.

Make sure you take the time to have a good relationship with your loved one’s day-to-day caregivers. By taking this time now, you may be able to more easily identify unusual behavior from them. Stay vigilant as it could be an indication they may be taking advantage of your loved one. Should you notice any unusual behavior, dig deeper into your loved one’s financial documents for potential problems. The first thing you can do is contact your local elder abuse hotline. Information for your local agency can be found on the National Center on Elder Abuse website.

While financial abuse is a growing problem, being able to identify the warning signs, and taking steps to avoid the issue in the first place can help protect you and your loved one.