Elder financial abuse is a growing concern that affects millions of older adults every year. This type of abuse can come from many different sources, including family members, caregivers, and scammers. It can be devastating for seniors, leading to financial ruin, loss of independence, embarrassment, shame, and emotional distress.
Here’s some practical advice for recognizing, preventing, and reporting elder financial abuse.
Elder financial abuse defined
Financial abuse happens when someone – a friend, family member, caregiver, professional, or other acquaintance – takes or misuses a senior’s money or property for the benefit of someone other than the senior. Misuse includes taking money without permission, failing to repay money owed, overcharging for or not delivering goods or services. Financial abuse is sometimes called financial exploitation and is a form of elder abuse. Read the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guide on protecting people who live in nursing homes and assisted living communities to learn more.
Recognizing elder financial abuse
The first step in preventing elder financial abuse is recognizing the signs. Here are some common indicators that your loved one may be experiencing financial abuse:
- Unusual financial activity: If your loved one suddenly has a lot of new credit cards or bank accounts that they can’t explain, this could be a sign that someone is using their information to open new accounts.
- Changes in spending habits: If your loved one suddenly starts spending money on things they don’t need or can’t afford, this could be a sign that someone is pressuring them to spend money.
- Missing belongings or money: If your loved one’s personal belongings or money start disappearing, this could be a sign that someone is stealing from them.
- Changes in behavior: If your loved one suddenly becomes secretive, anxious, or avoids certain people, this could be a sign that they are being abused.
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Preventing elder financial abuse
Once you recognize the signs of elder financial abuse, there are steps you can take to prevent it from happening.
- Stay involved: One of the best ways to prevent elder financial abuse is to stay involved in your loved one’s life. Check in with them regularly, ask about their finances, and monitor their accounts for any unusual activity.
- Be cautious: Be cautious when giving out personal information, especially over the phone or online. Scammers often use these methods to try to obtain sensitive information.
- Create a financial plan: Work with your loved one to create a financial plan that outlines their goals and objectives. This will help them stay on track and make informed decisions about their finances.
- Hire a reputable caregiver: If you need to hire a caregiver for your loved one, make sure you do your research and choose a reputable agency or individual. Conduct background checks and ask for references before hiring anyone.
- Report suspected abuse: If you suspect that your loved one is being financially abused, report it to the appropriate authorities immediately. This could include local law enforcement, Adult Protective Services, or a state agency that specializes in elder abuse.
Reporting elder financial abuse
If you suspect elder financial abuse, report it to:
- Your state or local Adult Protective Services (APS). These social services programs serve older adults and adults with disabilities who need help due to abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Adult Protective Services is a common term, but this may not be the name of the agency in your state. Find your local APS.
- Your local police or Sheriff’s office’s non-emergency number and file a report. Some state laws define elder financial abuse as a specific type of crime. Financial abuse may also involve other crimes such as theft, fraud, forgery, embezzlement, or money laundering. If there is an urgent risk of harm to your loved one or someone else, you should call 911 right away.
- Your local District Attorney’s office. Ask them to prosecute the person who took advantage of your loved one.
Elder financial abuse is a serious problem that can have devastating consequences for older adults. By recognizing the signs and taking steps to prevent it, you can help protect your loved one’s finances and overall well-being. Remember to stay involved, be cautious, create a financial plan, hire a reputable caregiver, and report suspected abuse if necessary. With these practical tips, you can help keep your loved one safe from financial abuse.
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