Elder Financial Abuse: Signs and Prevention


Today, there are over 40 million people 65 or older in the U.S. Unfortunately, this demographic, especially those with dementia and cognitive impairment, is left especially vulnerable to financial abuse. Almost three billion dollars is wrongfully taken from older adults annually, a number that continues to grow as Americans are now living longer. Such abuse leads to devastating physical, mental, and emotional consequences; elders who fall victim to financial exploitation are three times more likely to die earlier.

To help protect your loved ones from mistreatment, attorney Michael Hackard, author of The Wolf at the Door, explains five common types of senior financial abuse, as well as ways to prevent them.

Misappropriation of income

Signs of financial fraud can range from unusual and secretive bank activity, the addition of a stranger’s name to an account, or something as subtle as the senior never knowing where his/her checkbook is kept. “This is why an elder should always share important financial information with a trusted family member,” Hackard says.

Improper actions by an attorney

Unfortunately, there are cases when attorneys wrongfully deny elders information and access to their financials, put them on very small allowances, and even transfer assets, all done in secrecy. If your loved one has an attorney and is in distress believing he/she has no money, Hackard urges you to establish transparency and team up with all trusted helpers (children, grandchildren, other relatives) to get a better understanding of the situation and take action if necessary.

Undue influence

There are various factors in determining whether unfair influential abuse has taken place: whether the influencer knew (or should have known) about the victim’s incapacity or dependency; the influencer’s apparent authority over the elder (fiduciary, care provider, legal professional); and the influencer’s conduct (controlling meds, using coercion, initiating changes in personal or property rights). Prevent this type of wrongdoing by establishing an open-book policy with the elders in your life. “Communication is critical, because isolation and loneliness are tinder for financial abuse,” says Hackard.

Investment fraud

If your loved one has withdrawn money from the bank to pay for a service charge related to winning a sweepstakes or investing in a high interest loan, he/she is likely to have been tricked. High- pressure sales can be especially persuasive when the victim is physically and mentally vulnerable. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it is. “The payment of thousands of dollars to get millions, investing in a note with 30% interest, and the promise of doubling your money in an investment scheme, are warnings of wrongdoing and ultimate loss,” Hackard says.

Repair scams

From $300 weekly lawn mowing charges to transfers of property (even houses) for “safekeeping”, these are real ways that crooks can exploit the elderly with false repair schemes—especially if the elder is already dealing with another problem. To protect a love one from such wrongdoing, Hackard says your vigilance is key: “Get information from the elder, keep your eyes out for potentially false repair invoices, and always keep good communications line open.”

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