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Elder Law Newsletter: The $3 Billion Market for Financial Elder Abuse


The $3 Billion Market for Financial Elder Abuse
by Amy Boulware, Elder Care Planning Manager, (LAP MSW)
I received a phone call from my college roommate a while back. We talk often. So the call wasn't out of the ordinary. The topic of her call, however, was quite unexpected. Meredith said she needed my professional help, and it was serious. Her parents divorced when we were in college, and shortly after, her father remarried. He and his second wife retired to an active senior living community about four hours from Meredith's home. Things were going well there, and they were enjoying their retirement years – that is, until his wife passed away from cancer, leaving Meredith's dad all alone. She had not noticed any significant changes in him while her stepmother was alive, but after she had passed away, Meredith started noticing some strange things about her dad's behavior. He told her over the phone that he had won a huge lottery and was really excited about it. Then he proceeded to tell her that he had wired several thousand dollars to a P.O. Box and should be getting his prize winnings sometime soon. The first time this happened, Meredith and her siblings thought this was a fluke. After all, he had always been so smart. He had multiple degrees and had practiced medicine for over 40 years. They knew if they could just explain to him he had made a mistake that everything would be fine. Little did they know, this was only the beginning of scammers taking advantage of him by calling, sending him solicitations in the mail, and even visiting his home to get money. 
Financial exploitation targeting older adults is a major problem and is growing across the United States. Research shows that as many as 5 million older adults are victims of elder abuse each year. Financial exploitation, also known as financial abuse, is believed to cost seniors an estimated $3 billion annually, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. This type of exploitation occurs when someone illegally or improperly uses the elder's money or property for personal benefit. Elder abuse can be perpetrated by either someone you know or a stranger. In the case of Meredith's father, it was strangers who were taking advantage of her dad. However, in many cases, the abuser is actually much closer to home and is a family member, a trusted friend, or a caregiver.

What are some of the signs of potential financial exploitation of you or a loved one?

10 Signs of Financial Elder Exploitation:
  1. Recent financial activity not consistent with past financial history
     - ex: increased or unexplained credit card charges, withdrawals in spite of penalties, and newly authorized signers on an account
  2. The caregiver refuses to use the elder's funds on necessary expenditures for care or treatment
  3. The elder is confused about recent financial arrangements or transactions
  4.  Recent changes have been made to the elder's personal legal documents that he/she does not understand and did not authorize
    - ex: property titles, deeds, Power of Attorney documents, wills, trusts, or other documents 
  5. The elder is threatened by people demanding access to personal finances
  6. The elder has taken on the financial responsibility for a family member or friend without regard for his/her needs
  7. Suspicious signatures have been made on checks or other documents 
  8. Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices of discontinuation of utilities are showing up
  9. Bank statements and canceled checks no longer come to the elder's home
  10. Belongings or property are missing 

If you are concerned that someone you know may be a victim of elder abuse and believe he/she is in immediate danger, contact local law enforcement at (911). To report suspected crime in a non-emergency situation, you can contact local law enforcement at their regular number.

Below are other agencies in the community that deal with protecting the safety and well-being of older adults:

Please take action if you think that an elder is being abused. Don't stay quiet. 
It could be the difference between life and death or financial security.