How to Handle Financial Exploitation of the Elderly by Family Members

How to Protect Seniors from Abusive Family Members

Seniors are often easy targets for financial abuse – even by their own family. Learn the signs of financial exploitation of the elderly by family members – and how to deal with it if you suspect it.


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financial exploitation of the elderly by family members

Unfortunately, elder abuse is very prevalent in society. It is something that impacts a lot of the senior population. A lot of victims of financial abuse is done by family members. In fact, within domestic settings, it’s much more likely to be committed by family members. 1

Sadly, financial exploitation of the elderly by family members is not a new phenomenon.

Even back in 1993, the National Center for Elder Abuse found that financial abuse accounted for 12 percent of all reported abuse.2 Likewise, 34 percent of all financial abuse was found to be perpetrated by family and friends in 2009.3 There are many different types of financial exploitation of the elderly to be wary of.

In this article, I’ll be going over some of the signs that abuse is taking place, how to effectively address financial abuse, and how to properly report it.

What Are Some Signs Of Financial Elderly Abuse?

Here are some red flags that someone you love is being taken advantage of financially.

1. Missing Money

This is one of the most common signs of financial abuse. If there are large withdrawals or money missing from the elder person’s bank accounts, investment accounts, or anything else, it could be a sign that someone is taking it.

That is why it is important to set up alerts for the various accounts a senior has. This way, you can properly track where the withdrawals are being made and when they are being made.

2. Credit Card Abuse

Another big one would be the abuse of credit cards.

If a senior has credit cards that they typically only use for emergencies, it can be very easy to spot signs of abuse if the cards are being used much more frequently. By keeping tabs on an elderly person’s credit cards, you should be able to easily spot someone taking advantage of the elderly person by looking at spending patterns.

The best way to effectively curb this from happening is by placing credit card alerts on the account. That way, you can be alerted to when and where the credit card is being used.

Also, by limiting credit card cash advances, you should be able to curb the damage.

senior couple looking at credit card bills on the computer
Increasing credit card balances and missing items are two important red flags for financial exploitation of the elderly by family members.

3. Missing Items

Another sign of financial abuse may be the elder having things suddenly missing from their home. This could be expensive electronics and other things that the elderly person used to have.

By keeping tabs on what they have, it should be easy to spot whether or not they suddenly go missing.

4. Increased Anxiety

Just like anyone else, if someone is exhibiting more anxiety than normal, they are likely enduring more stress in their life. Having financial troubles or difficulties is one of the biggest stressors you can have.

Therefore, if an elderly person is suffering from financial abuse, they will likely exhibit much more signs of anxiety than normal.

5. Inability To Pay Bills

If the elderly person is suddenly dealing with a lot of collection notices or unpaid bills, it could be a clear sign that they are having financial difficulties that could be directly caused by financial exploitation.

Whether a family member is siphoning money from their accounts or they are simply neglecting to pay the bills, you want to investigate further because this is one of the more clear-cut signs of abuse.

senior woman meeting with an APS case worker about financial exploitation by a family member
Encourage seniors to discuss financial abuse with an Adult Protective Services worker.

Steps To Take When Financial Abuse Is Spotted

If you suspect financial exploitation of an elderly loved one by a family member, here are some steps you can take to rectify the situation.

1. Adult Protective Services

This is one of the very first things that you should be doing if you suspect that an elderly person is a victim of financial abuse. Calling on your state’s Adult Protective Services will be beneficial because they will investigate reports of abuse and can tell you what steps you should be taking yourself. They are also a neutral third party who won’t get involved in family dynamics.

2. Contact Their Financial Institutions

Whenever you spot signs of financial abuse, you want to contact the various financial institutions that the elderly person uses. By giving them the information that you have and by telling them about your concerns, it should give their internal fraud prevention department what they need to follow-up on your concerns and your requests. This can help you figure out whether or not they have been victim to financial abuse and it should help give you more information on the abuse that is occurring.

3. Report It To The Police

Depending on what you suspect, you may want to go directly to the authorities. If you suspect identity theft, you should create an identity theft report with the FTC and take it to your local police station. From there, you should be able to file a report.

4. Freeze Accounts

If you suspect financial abuse, you should help the elderly person freeze their credit accounts. By freezing their report with the bureaus, you should make it much more difficult for someone to steal their identity and open up accounts in their name.

They can go a step further and enroll in credit monitoring services like those at Experian. This should give them even more peace of mind knowing that they will be alerted to whenever someone attempts to open an account in their name.

5. Restraining Order

If the abuse is rampant, you may want to go as far as trying to get them a restraining order. This will help to keep the abuser away from the elderly person as you continue to gather the evidence you need to prove the abuse is occurring.

happy smiling senior couple
Protect seniors you love by teaching them how to protect themselves from abusive family members.

6. Help Them Protect Themselves

When you suspect a loved one is being taken advantage of, you want to try to take the necessary steps in order to protect them from continuing to be victims.

The best way to do this is by helping them avoid exposing their information to other parties. Getting a shredder to safely get rid of documents containing personal information is a must. These are commonly used by family members to try to steal the identity of their victims.

7. Speak With Them Directly

If you suspect they are being taken advantage of by a family member, you want to speak with them bluntly. Let them know what you think and some of the warning signs that you have spotted. Try to figure out what they are experiencing and what you may not have seen yourself.

By bringing the information directly to them, they will likely be able to tell you even more information that can be pertinent to being able to prove there is abuse happening. While some elderly people may not be receptive to this due to it being family, you should be looking to confront them and get them involved with the process because they will likely be able to provide you with information that you need to figure out what is really going on.

They should be receptive to your assistance if you approach them properly.

Wrapping Up

Elder abuse isn’t something to take lightly. Unfortunately, elderly people are very susceptible to all forms of abuse. After all, they don’t always have the ability to spot signs or deal with them on their own. Some may even suffer from decreased mental capacity or mental health issues that can cause them to be unable to protect themselves. A lot of perpetrators look to take advantage of this even as family members.

Elderly abuse is and continues to be rampant and the annual financial loss by victims of financial abuse was estimated to be as much as $2.9 billion dollars in 2009.3

If you suspect that someone you know is a victim of financial abuse by spotting the various signs above, you should be looking to take protective measures. Take some of the steps listed above and you should be able to help protect the victim from continuing to get taken advantage of by their own family members.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK98784/#
  2. https://acl.gov/abuse/report/Cexecsum.html
  3. https://ltcombudsman.org/uploads/files/issues/mmi-elder-financial-abuse.pdf
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About Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS® 305 Articles
Assistive Technology Professional, Custom Wheelchair Specialist, Medical Equipment Guru, Dad and Grandfather
I am a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not working as a custom wheelchair specialist at a regional home medical equipment company, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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