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Financial Abuse of the Elderly


Financial crimes against the elderly generally fall under two categories: fraud committed by strangers, and financial exploitation by relatives and caregivers. This blog will concentrate on financial elder abuse by relatives and caregivers.

Unlike strangers, relatives and caregivers often have a position of trust and an ongoing relationship with the elderly. Financial exploitation can be as follows:

1. borrowing money and not paying it back;
2. denying services or medical care to conserve funds;
3. giving away or selling the elder’s possessions without permission;
4. signing or cashing pension or social security checks without permission;
5. misusing ATM or credit cards, or using them without permission;
6. giving away the elder’s money to family or friends;

The financial abuser will use deceit, intimidation, emotional abuse, or promises of care.

ADULT CHILDREN AND RELATIVES: There have been cases of adult children living with their elder parent, taking their social security money, and not seeking medical care for them when it was necessary. These adult children have no visible means of support themselves. This is the largest category of offenders, and, sadly, the abuse is often not discovered until after the elder’s assets have been depleted.

PROFESSIONAL CAREGIVERS: Home health aides offer invaluable assistance to seniors who need help to live independently. However, they sometimes abuse an elder’s trust by intercepting and activating unsolicited credit cards in the elder’s name; taking jewelry, cash, or other valuables; forging or altering checks for their own use; or tricking the elder into transferring titles and deeds to the caregiver. Nursing home caregivers have also been known to participate in similar financial abuse of elders.

FRIENDS AND PEOPLE OF TRUST: This group can include neighbors, repair people, bank tellers, real estate agents, or investment advisors. In general, such offenders may encourage investments and expenditures that benefit only themselves, steal money or property, or arrange for changes to wills, trusts, or mortgage financing for their own benefit.

The following are signs of financial abuse:

A relative or caregiver has no visible means of support and is overly interested in the elder’s financial affairs and is concerned over the cost of caring for the elder, or is reluctant to spend money for needed medical treatment.

The utility and other bills are not being paid.

A relative or caregiver isolates the elder, makes excuses when friends or family calls or visit, and does not give the elder messages.

At the bank, the elder is accompanied by a relative or caregiver who refuses to let the elder speak, and/or the elder appears nervous or afraid of the person accompanying him or her.
The elder is concerned or confused about “missing money.”

There are suspicious signatures on the elder’s checks, or the elder signs checks and another party fills in the payee and amount sections.

There is an unusual amount of banking activity, particularly just after joint accounts are set up or someone new starts helping with the elder’s finances.

Action you can take:

In the case of nursing homes and in-home caregivers, do a background check. Don’t assume that a placement agency will do a thorough check on caregivers. Insist on a national, rather than state, criminal check. Ask for proof that the agency is bonded, and confirm it with your local Better Business Bureau.

In the case of a relative caregiver, have two family members on the accounts so that one is a check on the other. Also check that the relative caregiver has his/her own means of support.

As always, check with your local elderly ombudsman if you have questions and concerns about financial elder abuse schemes. You may need to consider filing a complaint.

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