Also known as financial exploitation, elder financial abuse is defined by the Older Americans Act as “the fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized, or improper act or process of an individual, including a caregiver or fiduciary, that uses the resources of an older individual for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, that results in depriving an older individual of the rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings, or assets.”
In other words, any time a person illegally benefits from the assets of an elderly individual, elder financial abuse has occurred.
The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) reports that the rate of elder financial abuse is exceedingly high, with as many as 1 in 20 older adults reporting financial mistreatment. Sadly, less than 50% of financial exploitation cases are reported.
Who commits these acts?
Most often, those who take advantage of the elderly are “trusted” people, such as family members, friends, and caregivers. Other individuals such as nursing home staff, neighbors, pastors, and bank employees may also use their positions to influence the elderly. New romantic interests may also coerce the elderly into changing their finances. According to NAPSA, “90% of abusers are family members or trusted others.”
What are the common ways the elderly are exploited?
The most common areas in which the elderly are manipulated include the following:
- Powers of attorney
- Joint bank accounts
- Beneficiary designations
In these instances, the elderly victim often allows a trusted person access to his/her finances and assets through these documents. The trusted person will then use the funds for his/her own purposes, often neglecting the victim’s financial needs. This can lead to stolen money, assets, or properties. Some victims may find themselves suddenly destitute or homeless, without insurance, and robbed of their savings.
One recent study found that “of the seniors who experienced fraud, 1.8 % lost their home or other major assets, […] 6.7% skipped medical care, and 4.2% reduced their nutritional intake for budgetary reasons.”
Who is at risk?
Most at risk are those elderly people who suffer from mental or physical disabilities including Alzheimer’s or dementia, those who are single and isolated, those who are unfamiliar with financial matters or technology, and those with predictable financial patterns (such as a monthly pension or social security check).
There are two significant qualifications for victimization:
- Lack of mental capacity – a condition in which an elderly person does not understand the nature and effect of his/her actions
- Undue influence – a situation in which a trusted person abuses his/her position and overcomes the free will of the elderly person with threats or intimidation
What should I look for if I suspect financial abuse?
Signs of elder financial exploitation can include the following:
- Large bank withdrawals or transfers between accounts
- Eviction notices, disconnected utilities, unpaid bills
- Unexplained ATM withdrawals
- Forged documents
- Undocumented financial arrangements
- Sudden and new “best friends”
- Missing property and belongings
- Substandard care
What can I do?
If you suspect that someone you know is a victim of elder financial abuse, contact an attorney immediately. An attorney should act quickly to stop assets from being transferred or, if they have been transferred, sue for damages.
If you believe you have a case, please contact us at 740-374-5346 or use our contact form. We will work with you to ensure the safety and financial security of your loved ones.