Protect the Finances of Your Loved Ones

Understanding and Dealing with Elder Financial Abuse

elder care

Senior citizens are often targets of financial abuse. Scammers, thieves, and fraudsters know that senior citizens are vulnerable and devise all manner of schemes to exploit them. Even worse, family members, neighbors, caregivers, and other professionals sometimes take advantage of seniors as well.

The financial abuse of seniors takes many forms:

•  They can be targeted for scams and fraud to steal their money
•  People physically take money from them without their knowledge or permission
•  They are overcharged for services, or charged and then the services are not provided
•  People who owe money to them fail to repay

Seniors have often accrued savings over a lifetime, and that makes them targets for theft and abuse. They may be more susceptible to fraud because of the aging process, or because the methods of committing fraud are increasingly sophisticated and technological. If a senior needs help to manage their money, they can become naturally vulnerable to financial abuse.

Preventing Financial Abuse of Seniors

Multiple family members and loved ones need to stay involved and connected when it comes to protecting senior family members. Use technology to share information and check in regularly. Even If one person in the family is taking responsibility for managing the finances, others need to be able to check in and ensure the senior’s needs are being cared for.

Speak with your senior family member and listen to what they report about their situation. Don’t let them avoid the subject or dismiss any warning signs. If another relative or loved one is acting as a financial caregiver, they may be reluctant to scrutinize that person’s behavior. But if the caregiver is behaving responsibly, then there should be nothing to fear from a close examination of the situation.

If the subject is elderly and in an assisted living facility or nursing home, then the facility should have policies in place to protect the resident from abuse. Be sure to know those policies and understand them, and make sure they are being enforced. Nursing home residents should be protected from contact by salespeople, and any suspected abuse must be reported to the proper authorities.

Look for Red Flags

Be aware of your loved one’s situation and check in regularly. Be aware of warnings that might be signs of financial abuse:

  • Missing money or property, including documents, checkbooks, credit cards, etc.
  • Possessions being swapped for lesser-value items
  • Medications missing or not being secured
  • A caregiver refusing to share information about the loved one’s situation
  • Any pressure to revise a will or to sign over financial control, especially if that pressure is against a short deadline
  • Any threats against your loved one unless they make extra payments or take other financial action
  • You are prevented from visiting your loved one without a third-party present
  • A third party speaks on behalf of your loved one or doesn’t let them speak freely
  • Anyone who seeks to isolate your loved one from the rest of the family
  • Any family member or caregiver shows signs of a drug, alcohol or gambling problem
  • Any suspicious response to your investigation of financial abuse—changing phone numbers, cutting off contact, or threatening to relocate your loved one, etc.
  • Suspicious bills arrive for unnecessary goods or services
  • The financial caregiver is late in making payments on behalf of your loved one
  • Anyone you don’t know asserts themselves as your loved one’s financial caregiver
  • Checks or other documents are signed by your loved one that shouldn’t be
  • Your loved one’s signature changes between documents
  • Unusual credit card activity on your loved one’s accounts
  • Your loved one gives gifts to caregivers or nursing home staff
  • Your loved one sells any of their valuables to caregivers or visitors

Review your loved one’s mail with them—discard any communications about sweepstakes or contests your loved one might have won. Make sure they understand the nature of these scams and won’t fall for them.

Also, make sure they aren’t communicating electronically with anyone suspicious. Any long-distance romances through the internet should be very suspect, and any scams related to fake tech support or computer viruses should be monitored closely.

Documenting Abuse

If you start to suspect elder financial abuse, start taking written records. Any time there is a concerning incident, document the dates, times, and locations along with a description of what happened. Take photos to document anything out of the ordinary; if you end up going to the authorities, you’ll want as much supporting documentation as you can get.

Get copies of emails, record times and content of phone calls, and make a note of anyone you share your concerns with. Any assisted living facility should be creating its own documentation of any incidents as well, and if they don’t appear to take things seriously or want to document your concerns, that should be considered a bad sign.

Getting Help

When it comes to investigating and reporting financial abuse of the elderly, you shouldn’t go it alone. Involve trusted family members and third parties to ensure you’re loved one’s rights are protected.

  • The US Department of Justice
    The USDOJ has an Elder Abuse Resource Roadmap for financial abuse that is a great resource to find the proper place to file a report.
  • Adult Protective Services
    Every state has social service programs designed to help protect people from abuse and neglect. NAPSA, the National Adult Protective Services Association, offers to help you find help in your area.
  • National Long-Term Care Ombudsman
    The Long-Term Care Ombudsman program advocates for people in nursing home, assisted living facilities, and the like. Find out more from their Resource Center online.
  • Law Enforcement
    You should report any abuse to local law enforcement, especially if there is some imminent risk of harm. It’s important that you have documented everything as we discussed above.
  • The facility itself
    Any nursing home or assisted living facility should have a staff member tasked with investigating any reports of abuse, and you should include them in your list of contacts.
  • Medicare fraud
    Each state has an agency responsible for overseeing Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes. Find your state’s agency here.
  • AHCA/NCAL
    The American Health Care Association & National Center for Assisted Living can help you find the agency that licenses assisted living facilities in your state.
  • The FTC
    Report fraud and scams to the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
  • USPS
    Scams using the US mail service should be reported to uspis.gov/report.
  • SSA
    The Social Security Administration might get involved if your loved one’s Social Security benefits are being misused.
  • VA
    The Department of Veterans Affairs might appoint a fiduciary if VA benefits are involved.
  • State civil courts
    If your loved one needs legal services to protect themselves from abuse, look for help through usa.gov/legal-aid.
  • CFPB
    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has more resources for responding to elder financial abuse. CFPB522 (2).pdf
  • Credit.org
    If you or your loved one needs free debt counseling, get help from a trusted nonprofit organization.
Speak to our certified Financial Coaches to review all of your options and discuss best strategies for getting out of debt.Speak to our certified Financial Coaches to review all of your options and discuss best strategies for getting out of debt.

About The Author

Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovative ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined credit.org in 2003 and has over two decades of experience in the industry.