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Avoiding Senior Financial Abuse

When people think about elder abuse, more often than not, they think of the physical and emotional manifestations.  However, nearly 12% of all reported elder abuse cases occur in the form of financial exploitation.

The number of seniors who have been victim of financial exploitation has risen significantly in the past decade. The trend continues in the wrong direction, siphoning billions of dollars from retirement accounts, ATMs, and jewelry boxes. Research from insurance provider MetLife has found that Americans over the age of 60 lost $2.9 billion to financial abuse in 2010 -- up 12% from 2008.

These numbers only scratch the surface of the problem, as Adult Protective Services (APS) estimates that only one in 44 cases of financial exploitation is reported.  To make matters worse, victims are often on a fixed income.  Nearly one in ten senior financial abuse victims will need to turn to Medicaid as a direct result of their money being stolen from them.

The most common schemers are often those you are least likely to be wary of.  A whopping 90% are trusted members of the family, most of which are children, spouses, and partners of the elderly family member. Other frequent swindlers include caretakers, neighbors, friends and acquaintances, attorneys, bank employees, pastors, doctors, and nurses.

Common scams to look out for that are carried out by strangers, professionals, and family members:

  • Mail fraud: Seniors are often targeted with false coupons or through impersonation, when scammers pose as a charity or religious representative asking for “donations.”
  • Telemarketing and email scams.
  • The grandparent scam: A phone call from someone impersonating a jailhouse employee or attorney, informing a grandparent that his or her grandson or granddaughter is in jail and needs an exorbitant amount of money sent immediately.
  • Predatory lending in which seniors are pressured to take out reverse mortgages or other unnecessary loans.
  • Identity theft.
  • Power of attorney used by family members to alter wills and make other personally beneficial financial decisions for the senior.
  • Caregivers stealing cash or jewelry from the senior.
  • Double-billing at nursing homes or doctor offices.
  • Exaggerating living expenses in order to pocket the overflow.

Financial exploitation prevention:

  • When shopping around for a nursing home facility for your loved one, keep an eye out for those with low-paid, poorly trained and poorly screened employees. Before hiring, it is important that employers perform adequate background checks to determine whether a past criminal record may interfere with proper elder care. Some nursing homes cannot afford the level care that their residents deserve. Underpaid employees are generally less happy with their jobs and often experience burnout, stress and search for other means of collecting money.
  • If you suspect that your loved one is being exploited by a financial professional, go with them to their appointments and ask questions.
  • Monitor your, or your loved ones, bank accounts and look for suspicious charges, debits, and withdrawals.
  • Explain email and telemarketing fraud to your loved one. We live in an era drastically different from the one that today’s senior population did. We know to keep our eyes out for letters from so-called Kenyan diplomats, but they may not.

Report, report, report.

If you see signs of financial abuse, remove your loved one from the care of the abuser and report it to Adult Protective Services (APS). Be sure to keep detailed records of his or her finances. You can also file a complaint to your state's Licensing and Certification to the Department of Public Health.


This post is brought to you by the elder law attorneys at Solomon & Relihan.  The firm has offices in Arizona and California and focuses it's preventing elder abuse and nursing home negligence.

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