Financial exploitation of vulnerable adults and is a growing concern, particularly for older adults. Seniors are often targeted due to vulnerabilities associated with decreased mobility, cognitive lapses, and limited understanding of technological advancements. Sure, there are plenty of tech savvy seniors these days (maybe you!), but the statistics don’t lie.
This exploitation can take various forms, ranging from theft of money or property to manipulation of financial resources with unknowing consent from the seniors. The perpetrators of such exploitation can include family members, nursing home staff, employees of an assisted living community, caretakers, or even strangers. This article aims to shed light on the issue of elder financial abuse and exploitation, its types, and strategies to prevent and detect it.
What is Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults?
Financial exploitation is a form of elder abuse and refers to the unauthorized use of an older adult’s resources by another individual or entity, resulting in a disadvantage for the adult or benefiting someone other than the owner of the funds. It encompasses various actions such as stealing or spending money without permission, forging signatures, misusing credit or debit cards, coercing changes in beneficiaries, and neglecting proper asset management, among others.
Types of Elder Financial Abuse
In this article, we will separate the information about elder abuse related to finances into two sections:
- Family & Caregiver Exploitation of Seniors. A family member or trusted person can take financial advantage of the older adult. This includes but is not limited to children, spouses, and nursing home staff. Family members, unfortunately, are the perpetrators of financial abuse roughly half of the time.
- Imposter Scams Targeting Seniors. A person posing as a government employee, tech support person, or repairman attempts to trick the older adult into providing money or personal information. The scammer then steals money in the form of deposits for work never done, credit cards, or personal information allowing them access to a financial institution or accounts.
Family & Caregiver Exploitation of Seniors
According to olderadultnestegg.com, One out of every 20 older adults in the U.S. is a victim of elder financial exploitation, losing an average of $80,000 to $186,000. Nearly half of these crimes are committed by someone the older adult knows and trusts, like a relative or caregiver.
Senior financial abuse by a trusted person or family member can include:
- Forcing a senior to sign financial documents
- Abusing joint signature authority
- Misusing credit, debit cards or bank accounts
- Cashing a check without authorization
- Misappropriate of pension funds
- Misleading an older adult resulting in misappropriation of funds
- Coercing or persuading a change in beneficiaries on a will or insurance policy
- Misusing Power of Attorney privileges when they have legal authority
- Negligent mishandling of assets
- Overcharging for caregiving
- Denying the older adult access to their accounts or money
Frauds & Scams Targeting Seniors by Strangers
According to the FTC, the three most common scams impacting adults older than 60 years are government imposters, tech scams, lottery & financial scams (with romance scams quickly gaining ground). Government imposter scams targeting seniors could be someone pretending to be from the Social Security Administration, or the IRS.
According to a recent study by the FBI, adults 60+ received a significant rise of 84% in total losses reported, compared to the previous year. Among the various types of fraud reported, Tech and Customer Support schemes remained the most prevalent, with victims over 60 filing 17,800 complaints.
Notably, Investment Fraud emerged as the fraud category with the highest increase in monetary losses among elderly victims, soaring over 300%. This surge can be largely attributed to the growing trend of crypto investment scams. Cryptocurrency-related losses saw a substantial increase in nearly all crime types monitored by a division of the FBI. Overall, the elderly reported a 350% rise in losses related to cryptocurrency.
Effects of Financial Exploitation
The consequences of financial exploitation on an elderly adult can be devastating. Victims may suffer substantial financial losses, potentially depleting all their assets, which cannot be recovered easily, especially in advanced age. This loss of financial security can lead to a loss of independence, feelings of insecurity, and significant psychological distress. Financial abuse can cause trauma comparable to that of being a victim of a violent crime, resulting in fear, distrust, and diminished confidence in managing financial affairs.
In severe cases, victims may experience depression and even contemplate suicide. Furthermore, the effects extend beyond the victim, as family members who lose their inheritances due to financial exploitation may also feel abused.
Detecting and Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation
Early detection and prevention play pivotal roles in combating financial exploitation. Recognizing the warning signs can help protect seniors from further harm. Some indicators include unpaid utilities and bills, money transfers to unfamiliar individuals, checks written to “cash,” unexplained cash withdrawals or missing valuables, unauthorized changes to legal documents, foreclosure notices, or property liens.
If financial abuse is suspected, it should be reported to the local Adult Protective Services office and the FTC (please see our resource list at the end of this article). You can also report it to local police or local law enforcement, dependent upon the type of abuse or scam.
Nine Tips to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse & Avoid Scams:
- Discover if You are at Risk: Take this free Senior Financial Vulnerability Survey.
- Educate Yourself on Common Scams: The FTC and FBI provide information on the latest statistics, methods, and tricks used by thieves. Share the information with your parents, kids, and family members.
- Simplify Finances: Simplify financial matters by consolidating accounts and organizing them to facilitate easier management. Use a free financial tool like Mint to keep track of your finances in a single location. You can use other tools like Lifelock to track changes in credit, bank accounts being opened, and other transactions, but there can be a cost associated to some of these digital tools.
- Set Up Safeguards: Authorize emergency contacts with financial institutions who can be notified in case of suspected fraudulent activity; or just copied on any money movement. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a nongovernmental body that oversees financial institutions, requires members to ask customers to identify a trusted contact when they open or update an account.
- Family Members & Adult Children – Get to Know the Caregiver: Yes, it takes time and effort, but as my wife likes to tell our kids, “Take a genuine interest in people.”
- Regular Financial Discussions: Seniors and trusted individuals should have regular meetings to review and discuss financial matters, ensuring transparency and safeguarding against exploitation. Becoming more financially literate prevents others from taking advantage of you, learn from experts & it is never too late to learn.
- Consult an Elder Law Attorney: When drafting power of attorney documents, consider incorporating safeguards such as periodic third-party accounting, requiring a second signature for large transactions, and granting authority to revoke to a trusted third party.
- Report Financial Abuse. When elderly financial abuse occurs, it should be reported to authorities to help stop the cycle. Please see our list of resources, below.
- Stay in Touch: Take the time to reach out to older family members to prevent elder financial abuse. When speaking with them, look for any warning signs. Discuss concerns with the rest of your family, as they may be seeing the same things you are.
Who do I contact if I suspect elder financial abuse toward myself, a friend, or family?
You can contact a state or federal agency dedicated to the protection of seniors (listed in our resources); an elder law attorney; and trusted family members and even close friends. Don’t attempt to hide the fact that you or someone you love may be the victim of elder abuse – you are not alone.
Who is most likely to commit elder financial abuse?
Unfortunately, friends, family, and trusted persons are most likely to take financial advantage of an older adult. However, internet and phone scams targeting adults 60+ are rising rapidly, particularly for those posing as government employees and tech support.
What are the types of financial exploitation of an older person?
Generally there are two main categories: (1) Friends, family, and trusted persons who take financial advantage of an older adult (2) Imposters or strangers, who scam or trick older adults into providing money or sensitive information.
Financial exploitation of seniors, a form of elder abuse, is a pressing issue that requires increased awareness, preventive measures, and stronger legal frameworks. Seniors are particularly vulnerable due to their age-related limitations, making them easy targets for exploitation.
By understanding the types of exploitation, demographics most at risk, and the strategies to detect and prevent such abuse, we can work towards safeguarding the financial well-being and dignity of older adults. It is crucial to promote education, implement protective policies, and foster supportive networks to combat this form of abuse effectively.
- National Adult Protective Services Association
- State by state listing of government agency in your area for reporting elder financial abuse, and financial abuse in general. The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) is a national non-profit 501 (c)(3)organization with members in all fifty states. Formed in 1989, the goal of NAPSA is to provide Adult Protective Services (APS) programs a forum for sharing information, solving problems, and improving the quality of services for victims of elder and vulnerable adult mistreatment.
- FTC – Report Fraud
- FTC Site to report all types of fraud, including the ability to report elder financial abuse
- US Department of Justice Elder Justice Initiative: Financial Exploitation
- Will guide you to the right agency to report certain types of exploitation to, links to state-specific elder abuse statutes, and more.
- National Adult Protective Services Association: Elder Financial Exploitation
- Includes a useful list of common forms of exploitation, whether by scams, strangers, or trusted individuals
- National Elder Fraud Hotline (US Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime): 1-833-FRAUD-11
Derrick Grant began his professional career working as a social worker in a nursing home, helping residents and families navigate the world of long-term care. He then worked as the Social Services Manager at an area agency on aging where he oversaw Information and Referral and programs such as Alzheimer’s Respite, Matter of Balance, and Meals on Wheels eligibility.
Dr. Lichtenberg is a national expert in financial capacity assessment and financial exploitation of older adults. Dr. Lichtenberg, one of the first board certified Clinical Geropsychologists in the nation, has made contributions to the practice of psychology across a variety of areas including in Alzheimer’s disease, medical rehabilitation and with those suffering from late life depression. As the founder of olderadultnestegg.com, he is particularly interested in the area of intersection between financial capacity and financial exploitation; finding ways to balance autonomy and protection for older adults.