“My mother’s best friend has been victimized by a family member who took advantage of her by stealing her identity as well as some of her favorite pieces of jewelry. She won’t report it because she is related to her abuser, but the situation has upset my mother and, frankly, me as well. How do I protect my mother from this kind of occurrence?” – Richard in Acworth

We’ve all heard stories from friends or on the news about seniors who suffer financial abuse at the hands or strangers or relatives. Scams are more typically committed by strangers and can be on a small scale, such as someone going door to door offering unnecessary home repairs, or by professionals, such as those constant phone calls alleging income tax penalties or fake charities.

Elder exploitation, on the other hand, refers to the abuse from a family member or a caregiver. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, over 90 % of perpetrators of this kind of crime are people that the senior knows. Unfortunately, those familial relationships are exactly why this crime is under-reported. Seniors may be hesitant to turn in a family member because they may be concerned about isolation or alienation from other relationships. They may also be embarrassed of becoming a victim, although they have no reason to be.

Signs of Elder Exploitation

Seniors who have physical or mental disabilities could be at risk for financial abuse from a family member, caregiver, friend, or neighbor. This vulnerable population may not be capable of independence, which is why they turn to a trusted person to assist them with many aspects of their lives, from personal care and household maintenance to financial tasks such as banking and asset management. But what happens when that trusted person isn’t so trustworthy, and how do you know if abuse or exploitation is occurring?

It helps if you understand the pattern that elder exploitation can develop. Some of the more common forms of elder exploitation include:

  • Abuse of Power of Attorney to gain access to the senior’s information and resources
  • Stealing checks and forging signatures or forcing the senior to sign blank checks
  • Siphoning money from a joint account for personal use
  • Unauthorized use of ATM card
  • Withholding medical or personal care to coerce senior into meeting demands
  • Threatening senior with physical harm or isolation if he or she does not cooperate
  • Charging senior for services not provided or other forms of fraud by a caregiver (such as false time sheets, running personal errands at senior’s expense, or having senior pay caregiver’s bills)

A perpetrator may start small, possibly with one a couple of these signs, and become bolder as he or she gets away with more.

Prevention and Protection

These crimes, and they are crimes, can be small and subtle, but the damage they cause a dependent elderly person can be great. Seniors can become fearful, anxious, and depressed when a trusted person takes advantage of them, and they may not know or remember who they can trust. If the financial loss is significant, they may not be able to pay for their care now or in the future

If you suspect your loved one is being targeted or exploited, you should report your concerns to Adult Protective Services in your area. They can investigate any potential elder abuse and may work with law enforcement to stop it. In fact, if you have evidence of financial exploitation, such as cancelled checks or receipts, you can directly contact the sheriff in your area. They will contact Adult Protective Services for you and investigate possible criminal charges.

Even if you don’t have power of attorney, you can also talk to your senior’s financial providers to report suspicious activity or ask what programs they have that protect elderly clients. Encourage your loved one to speak up about any worries they may have and stay connected to other family members who may know more about any questionable activity.

You and your mother are doing the right thing by discussing her friend and being aware of this type of crime. Reassure her that you are there to keep her safe in any way she needs it.

Thanks for your question! Best of luck!


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