It’s hard to imagine anyone taking financial advantage of a defenseless elderly person; and yet, almost a million American senior citizens lose almost $3B every year because of elder financial abuse. And more often than not, the perpetrator is a trusted family member – hard to believe, which is perhaps part of the reason this type of abuse continues to happen.
What Constitutes Elder Financial Abuse?
Elder financial abuse is a broad topic but typically involves the following:
- Getting an elderly person to sign a will, deed, power of attorney or other legal document through deception coercion, or unfair influence
- Forging that person’s signature
- Taking money or property without proper authorization
Why Are Family Members Most Often the Perpetrators?
There are a number of factors behind adult children and grandchildren, as well as spouses, resorting to elder theft. Some of the most common include:
- Addictive behaviors such as substance abuse, gambling, or compulsive shopping
- Excessive credit card debt or other outstanding balances, often related to the above
- A negative relationship with the elder family member that can result in a feeling of neglect or entitlement
- The feeling of being justified to access an inheritance they see as inevitable
- A conflict with siblings or other family members resulting in an impulse to hoard assets that are supposed to be shared
Add to any of these underlying factors the temptation of easy or authorized access to financial accounts, along with trusting family members reluctant to address warning signs, and you can see how this phenomenon happens so easily.
What Are the Warning Signs of This Type of Abuse?
Signs for concern include missing cash, belongings, or credit cards; large loans taken out against home equity or other assets; abrupt changes in financial arrangements or accounts; changes in physical grooming or lack of amenities that the senior can well afford; unfamiliar account withdrawals; the appearance of late statements/eviction notices, or documents with suspicious signatures; legal documents signed when the elder is unable to write, or understand their parameters; improbable investments in time shares, properties or financial products.
Alarm bells should also go off if a custodial family member acts unreasonable about allowing familial access to mom’s financial statements, or even denies unsupervised visits with her. That kind of excessive oversight can sometimes indicate an effort to prevent financial improprieties from being uncovered.
What Should I do if I Suspect Something?
No one relishes the idea of confronting a potentially hostile or defensive family member. Draw on the moral support of someone you trust – a spouse, a close friend – and start gathering the necessary documents and proof you need. Then, you have a few options for people to contact:
- Local law enforcement offices usually offer forms that allow you to report abuse confidentially. Along with providing specific evidence, you will have to name the alleged victim and their address, as well as the suspected perpetrator and their place of residence. These matters are most often referred to for investigation, and an investigator will contact you shortly thereafter.
- Contact the Adult Protective Services office in your area. They provide lots of helpful information and support, and most have a 24-hour hotline you can call. You’ll have to provide names and evidence, but all report filers’ identities are kept confidential.