Reports of elder financial abuse continue to increase, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to scams or to financial abuse by family members in need of money.
It is hard to ascertain the exact numbers of people affected by elder abuse because studies show that elder abuse is underreported. However, one study found that financial loss from financial elder abuse could be close to $3 billion a year.
While it is impossible to guarantee that an elderly loved one is not the victim of financial abuse, there are some steps you can take to reduce the chances. One option is to have more than one family member involved in caring for the loved one. You can also encourage the elder to get involved in community activities to ensure that he or she has a wide range of support. Using direct deposit as much as possible is also helpful. And of course you should always screen caregivers carefully and verify references.
Financial abuse can be very difficult to detect. The following are some signs that a loved one may be the victim of this kind of abuse:
The disappearance of valuable objects
Withdrawals of large amounts of money, checks made out to cash, or low bank balances
A new “best friend” and isolation from other friends and family
Large credit card transactions
Signatures on checks that look different
A name added to a bank account or newly formed joint accounts
Indications of fear of caregivers
If you suspect someone of being financially abused, there are several actions you can take:
Report the possible crime by calling your local Adult Protective Services and state attorney general’s office. File a police report.
Explore options at your local probate court if your state has such courts. The court can intervene if someone in the family is misusing a power of attorney or their role as guardian or conservator.
Contact advocacy organizations. The National Center on Elder Abuse offers guidance on how to investigate and seek justice for elder abuse. State laws vary, but some have elder abuse statutes and may be able to get restitution for breach of fiduciary duties.
Try to get a temporary restraining order from a court while building your case.
Another valuable resource is Aging in Place’s guide to recognizing elder abuse.