Elder Financial Abuse: Detect It, Prevent It and Overcome It

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 15 September 2011

Time and time again, abuse happens at the hands of those whom you least suspect, those closest to the victims, those who should help, not hurt, the ones they love.

Erica Sandberg’s article, “How to Detect & Prevent Elderly Financial Abuse” on CreditCards.com opened with a fitting example of this tragically regular occurrence:

Fraud and theft cases were nothing new For Mim King, a professional daily money manager based in Lexington, Kentucky. But when she discovered her sister, who lived with their parents, had racked up $60,000 in credit card bills (using her parents’ names and copious other identities) and cheated her parents out of $100,000, King was shocked, as were her parents. Says King of telling her parents the appalling news: “Their jaws dropped. My dad didn’t believe it at first. They defended her. For 22 years, she worked for them and lived with them for free. They trusted her, and she betrayed that trust many times over.”

Referencing the 2011 MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse, Sandberg shares that elder abuse victims lose an estimated $2.9 billion dollars annually, a 12 percent increase from 2008. Family members, friends and neighbors account for 34% of these crimes; 51% are committed by strangers.

Risk factors like diminished capacity (due to stroke, dementia, or isolation, among other things) can greatly increase an elder’s vulnerability to this type of abuse, but awareness is vital whether or not the senior in your care is impacted by any of these issues (as in the terribly unfortunate case of Mim King’s family, where the abuse was happening within their home, unbeknownst to them).

The holidays are approaching, a time when financial abuse (particularly cases where family or friends are the perpetrators) spikes, says the MetLife study. Know these prevention tips, know how to read the warning signs, and know the steps you can take to fight back in a case where the damage has already been done…

Prevent It
Being proactive pays off. Do what you can to firewall your senior family member’s/friend’s finances so you don’t end up with nearly irreparable damage like the Kings, or like Mickey Rooney, who made headlines earlier this year after he spoke up about an abusive situation in his family.

Check out these constructive tips from MetLife.com for guarding yourself and those in your care against financial predators:

  • Monitor your financial affairs
  • Stay active and engaged with others (avoid isolation)
  • Keep things organized (and protect passwords/sensitive information)
  • Know how to recognize potential perpetrators
  • Weigh financial decisions carefully
  • Understand the procedure for reporting abuse

Detect It
Have a sinking feeling that all is not well with your parents’ bank ledger? Trust your gut and begin an investigation immediately. Do check for a few of these warning signs before blaming anyone whom you might suspect, as it will only complicate the situation. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse – NCPEA – offers these red flags (read the full list here):

  • Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue utilities
  • Bank statements and canceled checks no longer come to the elder’s home
  • Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the older person didn’t understand at the time he or she signed them
  • Unusual activity in the older person’s bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals
  • The care of the elder is not commensurate with the size of his/her estate
  • A caregiver expresses excessive interest in the amount of money being spent on the older person
  • Suspicious signatures on checks or other documents
  • Absence of documentation about financial arrangements

Overcome It
If you uncover financial abuse, take action immediately. The NCPEA recommends these next steps:

  • Report it. Call The Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116) to find the APS (Adult Protective Services) department serving your community. You can also contact law enforcement, the local long-term care ombudsman, the Attorney General, or the Medicaid/Medicare fraud unit in your state, depending on the type of abuse.
  • Get professional help for resolving the situation. Consider enlisting a guardian, patient advocate, or daily money manager to handle the finer details of the case, and to make certain that financial abuse will never happen in your senior’s home again.
  • Ensure the victim is protected once the abuse has been reported.

Read more about physical, verbal and other types of elder abuse here at the blog.

Coming Soon: An exclusive interview with Patricia Maisano, CEO & Founder of IKOR USA, a nationally-growing network of healthcare advocacy/guardianship offices. Maisano’s experience and expertise was referenced in Erica Sandberg’s CreditCards.com article; we’ll give you our one-on-one conversation with her in an upcoming post on this emerging field.

There are 4 Comments about this post

  1. We are seeing elder abuse stories more and more even on the local news, many times by their own children. When you have a loved one in a nursing facility you see how vulnerable they are and worry them too.


    on 17 September 2011 / 10:27 AM

  2. Absolutely. It’s a frightening epidemic.


    on 19 September 2011 / 2:02 PM

  3. Betty Brigman says,

    My oldest son ,has locked me out of my home and is taking me to civil court ,in s.c. to fight against paying me a five thousand dollar loan. I have had two cancer surgeries and I am tired, hurt, disappointed, and feel like giving up.I am 67 yrs. old and have been financially exploited by him.


    on 13 August 2012 / 7:14 PM

  4. Betty, I’m so sorry to hear of this difficult situation you’re in! Have you reached out for help or reported your son’s actions?


    on 20 August 2012 / 11:52 AM


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