How to Recognize Elder Financial Abuse and Exploitation

When we think of elder abuse, we usually think of neglect and physical abuse, but there is another type of abuse that affects thousands of seniors every year. According to an FBI report, elder financial abuse affected over 92,000 seniors in 2021, and the dollar amount of the losses incurred rose 74% from the previous year.

Elder financial abuse is a problem that robs seniors of their money, possessions, and dignity, but if we can learn to recognize the signs, we can help protect our loved ones from being exploited. 

Here is some information from the team at Slutsky Elder Law to help you recognize and prevent elder financial abuse:

What Is Elder Financial Abuse?

When another person steals money or possessions from a senior or uses their identity for financial gain, it is considered elder financial abuse and it is a crime. Unfortunately, the culprits of elder financial abuse are often close friends, family members, and caretakers. Because many seniors suffer from conditions and injuries that impair their cognitive functioning, they are especially vulnerable to being exploited financially.

If you are concerned a senior loved one may be a victim of financial abuse, here are some signs to look for:

  • A Very Helpful New “Friend” – If your loved one suddenly has a new friend in their life who is always around, you may want to observe their interactions to ensure they have good intentions. If this person tries to limit your contact with your loved one, it is a huge red flag.
  • Missing Items or Cash – Your loved one may have valuable items or cash stored around the house; if you notice any of these items are missing, they may have been stolen.
  • Sudden Changes to Estate Planning Documents – If your loved one makes sudden updates to their will, powers of attorney, or other documents – especially to include their new “friend” – it could be a sign that someone is attempting to exert control over their financial affairs.
  • Unexplained Withdrawals – These can be difficult to spot because most people prefer to keep their banking information private, but if you notice your loved one is leaving bills unpaid and their bank account is empty, their money could be going to another person. You can also discuss this with your loved one and ask for permission to review their bank statements. Be clear that you are asking out of love and concern, and they may be willing to share that information with you.
  • Forged Signatures on Documents and Checks – Get to know your loved one’s signature; if it looks different on checks or other documents, someone else could be signing their name.
  • They Report Financial Abuse to You – If your loved one tells you someone is exploiting them financially, even if that person is a friend or family member, you should believe them and take the necessary steps to protect them.

Reporting Elder Financial Abuse

If you believe your senior loved one is being financially abused or exploited, there are some actions you can take. In Pennsylvania, you can contact the PA Department of Aging’s hotline at 1-800-490-8505. You can also contact the National Adult Protective Services Association to find local organizations in your area. Finally, if you have evidence a specific crime has been committed, like fraud or forgery, contact your local police department and report it right away.

There are also some steps you can take to prevent elder financial abuse before it happens. If your loved one is suffering from cognitive decline or has risk factors, you may want to talk to them about designating a financial power of attorney. With this document in place, some or all financial decisions will be made by the person holding the power of attorney, preventing any fraud or exploitation from occurring. If you need to speak with an elder law attorney in the Philadelphia area, and surrounding areas, get in touch with Slutsky Elder Law today. Robert Slutsky has over 30 years of experience as an elder law attorney and he can help you with powers of attorney, estate planning, Medicaid asset protection, and more.

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