As the Baby Boomer and Silent Generation get older and continue to retire, financial exploitation of older adults is on the rise. Those with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia are particularly vulnerable to falling victim to schemes aimed at separating them from their money, depriving them of their resources and ultimately their independence.
As many as one in 20 seniors report experiencing some form of financial exploitation within the past year, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), but the numbers are thought to be much higher because of how many cases aren’t reported at all. And financial abuse of older adults doesn’t solely target the wealthy. It crosses all boundaries of age, race, socio-economic background, gender, education and affluence. These underreported crimes are becoming so common that elderly financial abuse is often called “the crime of the twenty-first century.”
Financial elder abuse can take many forms from unauthorized check cashing, coercing the elder to part with property or diverting guardianship. Seniors lose an estimated $30 billion annually due to financial exploitation, according to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Unfortunately, the most common abusers tend to be friends, family members, acquaintances, or other trusted people that find ways to take advantage of those in cognitive decline.
In most situations there are warning signs and both caregivers and close family members are often the ones who can spot abuse and exploitation early on. By knowing and understanding the warning signs of financial elder abuse you can help protect your loved ones. Here are some common red flags.
It may be easy to think forgetting where one’s jewelry, cash, or other valuables are a result of an aging mind, but experts say this is one of the most common signs of possible abuse. Often, seniors will notice this themselves, and may mention it to a caregiver or family member.
Sudden and unexplained changes to will or power of attorney:
Financial power of attorney allows a designated person to act on behalf of the client in legal and financial affairs. It’s a very significant designation and any changes to it, particularly when the transfer is not to a family member or a long-standing friend, could be a sign someone may be trying to take advantage.
Disappearance of funds or unexpected changes in bank account balances:
Unanticipated transfer of assets to a family member or friend, unfamiliar third-party bill payments through an account, or requests to make payments on someone else’s credit card can all be signs of financial abuse. Are large amounts of money missing from the elder’s investment or bank accounts? There could end up being a reason for the activity, but it could also be a sign that someone is pressuring them to withdraw money. It’s important to find out where the money went.
Unpaid bills, collection letters and mail piling up:
Mismanaging money or neglecting self-care can be signs of abuse, dementia, or illness. If the elder has stopped paying bills and acts hesitant to make normal everyday purchases like food, clothing, or other essentials it’s important to investigate and figure out what’s going on.
Sudden changes in their mood or demeanor:
Elder abuse can have a wide range of emotional effects including unusual and sudden sadness, nervousness or anxiety, irritability, and withdrawal from normal activities or relationships. If the older adult is acting reluctant to discuss financial matters, and turning down opportunities to spend time with family members or friends, it could be a sign they’re experiencing financial and emotional distress.
Take note if an older adult you’re close to says something like:
- “My money seems to be disappearing.”
- “People are asking me for money.”
- “I’ve been pressured to give money away or to change my will.”
- “I think someone may be accessing my accounts.”
- “Sometimes I make loans or give gifts that make me uncomfortable.”
- “My bills are confusing to me.”
- “I don’t feel confident making financial decisions alone.”
- “I don’t understand financial decisions that someone else is making for me.”
These common phrases of older adults being exploited can often be tip offs to caregivers and family members. If you recognize warning signs or suspect someone you know is being exploited, it’s important to address the issue immediately.