Believe it or not, financial elder abuse is very common. And, it’s not only perpetrated by strangers. In fact, an overwhelming amount of financial elder abuse happens within families.
While it occurs often within families with a senior who suffers from dementia or another illness, it also happens to perfectly healthy seniors. It’s not a rare situation at all.
In fact, from a 2016 study, it is estimated that seniors 60 and up suffered from annual losses ranging from $352 million to over 1.5 billion in New York alone.1 Whereas, between the years of 2013 and 2017, seniors over the age of 70 lost an average of $41,800 to this type of abuse.2
What’s worse, the study showed that monetary losses were more significant when the older adult knew the person being taken advantage of.2 If you suspect financial abuse is going on and you are looking for specific signs to look out for, there are a few signs that could signal some sort of abuse going on.
In this guide, I’ll discuss some of the key signs to look for that could indicate a family member is taking advantage of someone. Plus, I’ll discuss how to address the abuse and how to go about reporting it.
Different Signs That Could Signal Elderly Abuse:
Here are some “red flags” that might indicate a sibling is taking advantage of an elderly parent.
1. A Family Member Is Living With The Parent
This is one of the major signs that abuse may be more likely to occur. If a son or daughter that is supposedly financially dependent is living with the at-risk parent, it could be very easy for them to take advantage of the situation.
The son or daughter often uses his parent’s finances to fund their lifestyle. After all, they are always around and likely manage the parent’s money.
Therefore, anyone that is in this type of situation should be extra careful to ensure the son or daughter isn’t taking advantage of the situation to steal from the vulnerable parent.
2. The Family Member Is Secretive About Finances
If one child has total and complete access to the parent’s finances, it will put the senior at a much greater risk of being taken advantage of.
By having all of the kids auditing the finances of their parent, it can greatly reduce the risk of having one take advantage of the parent. However, if you notice that some of the account’s passwords have changed or they have been moving money to different banks or accounts that no one has access to, it is a clear flag that they are looking to hide something.
Therefore, if you have a sibling that is suddenly taking complete control over your parent’s finances, you may want to look even closer at the finances to ensure nothing bad is going on.
3. The Sibling Insists on Being with the Parent When Others Are Visiting
This one is a major red flag because it shows potentially controlling and overbearing behavior. The family member is likely looking to stay close to the aging parent to avoid getting their scam exposed.
If the family member is taking steps to avoid allowing the aging parent to go out on their own with other family members or to invite people over without them being present, they are likely threatening them for exposing what is really going on.
4. The Elderly Person Doesn’t Know Their Current Financial Situation
This is a major red flag – especially if the elderly person doesn’t have dementia or other related illnesses that could influence them knowing about their own finances.
If they are in-the-dark about their own finances, it could be a clear sign that they are being taken advantage of by someone in their family. Many parents will give their adult children the ability to control their finances, but it doesn’t mean they should be left in the dark. If the adult child (your sibling) leaves your parent out of the loop, it could indicate they are up to no good.
5. Major Withdrawals
If you are looking at your parent’s bank accounts and you notice they have substantial cash withdrawals, you should ask them about it. If they are unable to tell you why a significant sum of money was withdrawn from their account, it’s a major issue that needs to be looked into.
Family members’ financial exploitation can be tracked by looking at bank statements, credit card bills, and more. You can spot irregular spending patterns and withdrawals to identify the abuse by looking closely.
6. A Lot Of Unpaid Bills
If you notice that your elderly parent suddenly has all kinds of unpaid bills, it could mean their primary caretaker (your sibling) is neglecting them. Whether they are doing this because they are using the money for their own needs or they are simply not getting the bills paid on time, it could be detrimental to your parent.
Keep tabs on your elderly parent’s mail to see whether or not they have a lot of unpaid bills or notices as it could be a warning sign they are a victim of financial abuse.
Steps To Take To Address The Abuse
If you suspect your sibling is taking advantage of your elderly parent, here are some steps you should consider to address the issue.
1. Call Adult Protective Services
This is one of the best ways to begin helping your aging parent.
If you believe your parent is a victim of financial abuse from your sibling, this is one of the first steps you should take. That way, you will be able to supply them with all of the information you were able to gather. Doing this will allow you to put it into the hands of professionals who can sniff out the abuse.
2. Contact The Local Police
If you suspect your sibling is financially abusing your parent, consider contacting the local authorities.
Gather as much evidence as possible to give them something to work with. Supply them with the name(s) of the suspected abusers, what activity you found suspicious, and anything else that you can gather than would help them with the investigation.
3. Speak With Your Parent
Speak with the parent who you suspect is being taken advantage of. This way, you can ask them whether or not they are aware of anything your sibling may have done to take advantage of them.
It is entirely possible that your elderly parent is completely aware of it and afraid to tell. Likewise, it is just as possible that they are unaware of it, and they would be able to provide you with information that could verify your suspicions.
Having open communication is one of the best things you can do to curb the abuse. By making your parent aware of your suspicions and the situation, you should be able to put things in motion to stop it.
4. Get Together With Other Siblings
If you suspect one of your siblings is taking advantage of your parent or parents, discuss your suspicions with your other siblings. This will allow you to handle the situation with others who care about your parent(s) and what happens to them.
They may be able to help you identify whether or not it is actually happening. Likewise, the more people you have on your side, the better the possibilities of a positive outcome.
Have everyone get together to take over the finances of the parent. Having everything completely open to all siblings increases the transparency and makes it much less likely anyone is bold enough to steal from or financially abuse the parent.
The elderly are much more vulnerable to financial exploitation for several reasons. For one, they tend to suffer from health-related impairments due to aging. This type of cognitive decline can cause them to be unaware of what is happening around them. Likewise, it can reduce their ability to remember things. Also, the fact they lose physical dependency can put them at a greater risk of being victims of financial abuse from a family member.
After all, studies found that family members tend to be the most common perpetrator of elder financial exploitation.2 If you suspect a sibling is taking advantage of an elderly parent or are already victims of this type of abuse, you should look out for some of the easier to spot warning signs to ensure you can stop it. Try to gather as much evidence as possible and report it to the authorities. If you have enough evidence, they will usually freeze the elderly person’s bank and assets to ensure no further exploitation once it is reported.