Tips for Preventing Financial Abuse of the Elderly

As the economy worsens, reports of elder financial abuse are on the rise. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to scams and to financial abuse by friends, acquaintances, caregivers and family members in need of money.

A recent MetLife study, Broken Trust: Elders, Family and Finances, found that up to one million older Americans may be targeted yearly. Family members and caregivers are the culprits in 55 percent of cases, although financial losses are usually higher with investment fraud scams.

While it is impossible to guarantee that an elderly loved one is not the victim of financial abuse, there are some steps you can take to reduce the chances. One option is to have more than one family member involved in caring for the loved one. You can also encourage the elder to get involved in community activities to ensure that he or she has a wide range of support. Using direct deposit as much as possible is also helpful. And of course you should always screen caregivers carefully and verify references.

Financial abuse can be very difficult to detect. Here are some signs that a loved one may be a victim of this kind of abuse:

  • The disappearance of valuable objects.
  • Withdrawals of large amounts of money, checks made out to cash, or low bank balances.
  • A new “best friend” and isolation from other friends and family.
  • Large credit card transactions.
  • Signatures on checks that look different.
  • A name added to a bank account, or newly formed joint accounts.
  • Indications that the elder is afraid of a caregiver.

If you suspect someone of being financially abused, there are several actions you can take:

  • Report the possible crime by calling your local Adult Protective Services and state attorney general’s office. File a police report.
  • Explore options at your local probate court if your state has such courts. The court can intervene if someone in the family is misusing a power of attorney or their role as guardian or conservator.
  • Contact advocacy organizations. The National Center on Elder Abuse offers guidance on how to investigate and seek justice for elder abuse. State laws vary, but some have elder abuse statutes and you may be able to use these laws to help an elder get restitution for breaches of fiduciary duties.
  • Try to get a temporary restraining order from a court while building your case.
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