The 4 Signs: How to Detect Elder Financial Exploitation

Scammers have zero remorse for elder financial exploitation. They take advantage of people’s good intentions who believe they are donating to help those in need. Auto call lists easily identify older victims and the ubiquitous online world of emails, fake mirror websites, disingenuous GoFundMe pages, and postal mail scams are everywhere.

Not everyone is aware of how to detect financial elder exploitation. These scams may seem obvious to many people, but it affects millions of people every year. Fraud perpetrators know how to target people who are less likely to pick up on the signs of a scam. We often warn older adults of unknown callers and the internet. We remind them to never give out personal information because of financial scams. Sadly, most financial fraud happens through caregivers, family members, friends, or trusted individuals. Keep a watchful eye on the 4 signs of financial exploitation to protect our older loved ones.

How to Identify the Most At Risk

The first step is to identify who is most at risk of elder financial exploitation. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) defines elder financial exploitation as “the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources by another” and is a form of elder abuse. Older individuals who are single or isolated tend to be more at risk of financial exploitation. Increased risks are also associated with those who have mental or physical disabilities. 

For families with members who have financial or substance abuse issues, there is an increased risk of financial exploitation of their elders. Couple any of the above situations with an older individual who lacks control or familiarity with their finances, and the consequences may be disastrous.

The 4 warning signs of elder financial exploitation

1. Money management changes 

This can be a change in the individuals tasked with financial oversight (professional or personal), new routine bank account withdrawals, or significant changes in account balances. Look for unexpected opening or closing accounts, changes in spending habits, disconnected utilities, or missed bill payments.

2. Changes in individual associations

Any new “friend” that may try to isolate your loved one is a likely sign of undue influence, control, or manipulation. Any recent individual (professional or personal) who tries to withhold income or assets is very suspect. Be wary of those who pressure a loved one to give gifts such as cash, property, or making personal loans without documentation or belief that the person will repay the loan under the terms and conditions.

3. Changes in legal documents

Newly drafted legal documents that seem unusual or have forged signatures are apparent signs of problems. Also, look for alterations in existing documents, pre-signed withdrawal slips or checks, and transfers made without the knowledge or understanding of the older person.

4. Changes in the individual’s behavior

Does your loved one exhibit fear, shame, humiliation, financial confusion, or an unwillingness to discuss money or get counsel? If so, they may need help. These feelings may be due to deteriorating or untreated health conditions. Or, they could be a warning sign of elder financial exploitation. Other indicators, such as physical or emotional neglect, and missing property, are warning signs that exploitation is occurring.

What to do

Immediately report your suspicions or findings to law enforcement, adult protective services, their and your attorney, other responsible fiduciaries who are involved, and local elder agencies. It is crucial to report to as many agencies and responsible parties as possible. Protect your older loved one’s from the abuser. Create space between the parties and do not permit contact to ensure the victim’s safety.

Quick action and reporting increase the chance to recover assets and protects the individual from further harm. 

Many older individuals shy from reporting financial exploitation fearing retaliation, losing independence, or the embarrassment. They were duped. Other victims may be mentally or physically unable to recognize the abuse or take too long to recognize what was happening. And sometimes, radical changes in financial accounts are for legitimate reasons such as estate planning or preparing to enter a nursing home. So be sure of your suspicions by doing your due diligence .

If you find actual financial exploitation or abuse, contacting proper authorities is the key to the best outcomes. Professional service people follow processes to protect the victims and seek to recover missing assets. Elder financial abuse can create heartbreaking situations, leaving the victims destitute. 

Learn about elder financial abuse to protect your loved ones from the scams at large and the family or other close individuals who might seek to take advantage of them. I hope you found this article helpful. Please contact us today at 877-585-1885 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal matters.

Thanks for reading.

Christopher E. Botti, Esq., Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law