The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) reports that financial exploitation of the elderly is on the rise. Exploitation occurs when someone “illegally or improperly uses an older person’s money or belongings for their own personal use.”
The most common perpetrators of this type of abuse are family members and caregivers. Even though financial abuse and exploitation is a crime, it is seldom reported.
Factors Increasing Vulnerability to Abuse
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) notes many factors contribute to making the elderly vulnerable to financial abuse. For one thing, as people age, they lose both mental agility and physical strength. They seek assistance for doing chores around the house as well as needing others to run errands for them and help them with meeting their financial responsibilities, like paying their monthly bills.
An elderly person who sends someone to the grocery store may not notice that the bill was much higher than it should have been for the amount of groceries purchased. They may only slightly question their own signature on a bank withdrawal slip, saying only to themselves, “I don’t remember taking out that much money,” but then chalking it up to forgetfulness without pursuing it any further.
The AARP states that most financial abusers fit a profile. They are more likely to:
- Be adult children or spouses.
- Be male.
- Have a current or past substance abuse problem.
- Have mental or physical health problems of their own.
- Be currently in trouble with the police, or have had trouble with them in the past.
- Be socially isolated.
- Have unresolved financial issues.
- Be unemployed.
- Have access to the elderly person’s bank accounts, bank statements and other personal financial documents.
Some abusers can be so persuasive that they convince the elderly person to make a transfer of funds to the abuser. The elderly person may even claim the transfer was voluntary.
Signs an Elderly Person is Being Financially Abused
There are some signs to watch for that indicate your elderly loved one is being financially abused by another relative. It may be that a relative has moved in with the elderly person to “help out.” Then, your loved one becomes isolated as the abusing relative works to keep other family members from knowing about the abuse.
You may notice that when you do see your loved one, he or she seems to be doing without necessities. They may be unkempt, lacking in basic necessities of life, and seem alienated from the rest of the family. You may discover the electricity has been turned off despite knowing your loved one should have sufficient funds to have paid it, or your loved one tells you he or she recalls writing a check to pay the bill.
Other signs may be that the new live-in “caretaker” quits his or her job, or is driving a new car. It behooves you to find out if the change in the lifestyle is being subsidized by your loved one’s funds.
How to Protect Yourself from Financial Abuse if you are Elderly
If you are elderly and concerned about financial abuse by a relative, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) offers some suggestions for protecting yourself against this type of financial abuse.
- Use direct deposit for all of your checks. This avoids sending someone to the bank for you who may be able to deposit and get cash back without your knowledge.
- Open and review your own mail.
- Sign your own checks when paying bills. Or, have your bank automatically pay routine bills like utilities, mortgage or rent.
- Stay connected with other family members and friends. Do not allow one relative to isolate you from the others.
- As much as possible, stay active in the community, which will also decrease social isolation.
- Have your own lawyer draw up a power of attorney to be sure only someone you explicitly trust can deal with your finances. Review it periodically and be sure it is still current.
- Do not sign any document without carefully reviewing it and seeking independent advice.
- Always have your own phone.
Stay diligent. Elder financial abuse has been called “The crime of the 21st Century.” It does not happen just to wealthy senior citizens, but across all socio-economic boundaries. Be on the look-out so it does not happen to you or someone you love.
If you believe you were financially abused, or this happened to someone you know or love, contact us at Davis-Levin Livingston. We offer a free case evaluation where we will analyze the facts of the case and come up with a plan to report the abuse to the proper authorities. We will do whatever is possible to stop the abuse and to recover the misappropriated funds or property.