Financial Abuse / Exploitation
When someone takes money or property from an older person without their knowledge, understanding or consent.
What is Financial Elder Abuse / Exploitation?
Elder Financial Abuse is when someone takes money or property from an older person without their knowledge, understanding, or consent.
Some forms of elder financial exploitation are simple and straightforward such as forging a signature on an older person’s check, or using their ATM card to take their cash.
Other forms of financial abuse can be quite complicated, such as getting the deed to a property, identify theft, accessing and spending down an inheritance, or gaining control of assets.
Coercion and Undue Influence
Getting an older person to change a will or enter into a complex financial transaction they do not understand to get their money.
Why Does Elder Financial Exploitation Occur?
Many factors – in both the older person and the abuser – contribute to elder financial exploitation.
Vulnerability Drives Financial Abuse
The victim may have neurologic problems, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, or problems hearing or seeing which can make understanding financial matters more difficult. Financial abusers, like those who commit other forms of elder abuse, may have drug, alcohol, or mental health problems. Many older people are vulnerable simply because they have money in the form of pensions, retirement savings, or home equity, which are appealing to abusers.
The Threat From Within
Elder financial abusers can be family members, or people with whom the older person has had a relationship. In the case of family members, they may see the older person as an easy way to get money for their own needs that can range from rent and food, to drugs or alcohol or to make extravagant purchases. Abusers may believe they are justified in this behavior, even though the older person has not agreed to it, because they are “family.” It may begin innocently when an older person agrees to help with finances for a brief period of need, but then escalates as time passes.
Unscrupulous Businesses and Outright Fraud
In the case of strangers, this could be outright theft, or a business situation in which an older person is taken advantage of, perhaps in agreeing to home renovations or contracting work or scams through the internet. Sometimes financial elder abusers are people who have worked for the older person in some capacity, such as a home health aid or domestic worker.
We are Working to End Elder Financial Abuse / Exploitation
From research and policy, to direct services, the team at elderabuse.org is focused on one thing: ending elder abuse.
What Harm Can Elder Financial Exploitation Do?
Financial exploitation can be particularly devastating for a number of reasons.
The Dramatic Decline in Quality of Life
First, money is an important tool in ensuring quality of life as we age – in the form of food, shelter, medical care and many other necessities and pleasures. An older person who loses their life savings will likely have a dramatic decline in quality of life, and often suffer from anxiety and/or depression.
No Time to Recover
While any victim of theft or fraud has setbacks, younger people have many working years remaining to recover from a financial loss. Older people have no such luxury.
Money is the Gateway to Other Forms of Abuse
Many experts believe that financial exploitation is a “gateway” form of elder abuse; that is, other forms of elder abuse can follow when it occurs.
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What Can Be Done to Stop Financial Abuse / Exploitation?
Awareness and early action are the keys to preventing or stopping elder financial abuse and exploitation.
Early recognition is the key. Once financial exploitation starts, it’s only a matter of time before the victim is wiped out. Older people should carefully monitor bank, credit card, retirement, and other statements. Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurological conditions are especially vulnerable and concerned friends or families should be particularly vigilant.
Be Wary and Take Your Time
Older adults should be extremely wary of sales pitches and entering into transactions without the benefit of time, and a full understanding of what is being proposed or sold.
Attention to Detail
Loved ones who worry about an older person need to be on the lookout for signs that something may be amiss. This could range from weight loss, to unpaid utility or medical bills, to a high number of sales solicitations.