What Is Elder Financial Abuse?

A senior writes on a piece of paper at the kitchen table.
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DEFINITION

Elder financial abuse is the misuse of an older person's financial assets or resources by an outside party for personal gain. This type of financial abuse can be committed by strangers or a person known to the victim, such as a caretaker, relative, or friend.

How Financial Elder Abuse Works

Financial abuse happens when one person takes or misuses another person's assets or property for their own ends. When the victim is an older adult, it's labeled as financial elder abuse or exploitation.

In terms of how elder financial abuse works, it can take different forms. The types of people typically targeted include seniors who are:

  • Ages 80 or older
  • Isolated from their communities, loved ones, or friends
  • Rely on others for care
  • Experiencing a cognitive decline
  • Physically disabled

Financial elder abuse is a severe problem, with up to five million Americans falling victim each year, resulting in $36.5 billion in losses.

The perpetrators of elder financial abuse can be strangers or people the victim knows. The type of abuse that takes place usually depends on who is exploiting an older person. For instance, there are a lot of scams that target aging seniors, including:

  • Home improvement scams
  • Sweepstakes and lottery scams
  • Charity scams
  • Health care and prescription-drug scams
  • Phone, text, or email phishing scams

With these types of financial elder abuse, the goal is usually to convince the victim to hand over their personal or financial information. For example, a senior might be told they've won a sweepstakes, but to claim their prize, they need to wire $500 to the sweepstakes company's bank account first.

"Trusted person" financial elder abuse involves exploitation by someone the victim knows. The trusted person may have access to the older person's assets, or they may threaten or coerce the victim into giving them access to bank accounts or signing over their property. In some instances, the victim may also be abused physically.

Women tend to be more susceptible to elder financial abuse than men.

Financial elder abuse can be treated as a crime, depending on where you live. Each state defines elder financial abuse and exploitation differently.

Elder Financial Abuse Example

Here's a closer look at how financial elder abuse can work. Say that your 80-year-old mother is showing early signs of dementia. She refuses to be placed in a nursing home, so you hire an in-home nurse to visit her daily and care for her basic needs.

A few months later, you notice that checks have gone missing from your mother's checkbook. Collection notices from credit card companies are piling up in the mail, and debt collectors are frequently calling. Your mother surprises you by letting you know that she's changed her will to leave property to the caregiver.

When you ask about the changes, your mother refuses to discuss them and appears embarrassed or even afraid. The caregiver acts defiant when questioned or attempts to cut off your contact with your mother. These are all classic signs of a situation in which someone exploits an older adult's finances for their own gain.

Key Takeaways

  • Elder financial abuse involves the misuse or misappropriation of an older adult's financial resources or assets for someone else's benefit.
  • Financial elder abuse can take the form of scams or trusted-person abuse, in which the person exploiting the victim is someone they know.
  • In many states, although not all, financial elder abuse is a crime.
  • Knowing how to spot the warning signs of elder financial abuse is the best way to prevent someone you love from being victimized.
  • If you suspect an older person you know is being abused financially or otherwise, you can contact Adult Protective Services to report it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the two categories of elderly financial abuse crimes?

Elderly financial abuse can be categorized according to who is carrying out the abuse. Generally, financial elder abuse is committed by strangers or known people such as caregivers, relatives, or other trusted individuals.

How do you report elder financial abuse?

If you think an older adult is being exploited or you believe you're a victim, you can contact Adult Protective Services to report it. Suspected financial crimes can also be reported to the victim's bank. If physical abuse is also suspected, you may be able to report it to the victim's doctor.

What should you do if you suspect elder financial abuse?

If you suspect elder financial abuse, you can first try to talk to the person you think is being abused. They may or may not be willing to tell you if they're being exploited. If they're reluctant to talk, you can reach out to their other loved ones or their doctor to try and confirm what you suspect. You can also report the suspected abuse to Adult Protect Services and/or law enforcement.

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Article Sources

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Reporting Elder Financial Abuse.”

  2. New York State. “What Is Elder Financial Exploitation?

  3. National Council on Aging. "Get the Facts on Elder Abuse."