Invisible Abuse: Financial Exploitation and Senior Citizens
By: Elizabeth Ryan
Financial abuse and material exploitation of the elderly may not cause physical injuries or leave scars, but they can have devastating effects and ruin the lives of victims. An elder’s entire life savings can disappear, leaving the victim unable to provide for his or her own needs and causing harmful stress and agitation.
Financial elder abuse and material exploitation occur when an abuser uses an elder’s money or assets in a manner contrary to elder’s wishes, needs, or best interests, or for the abuser’s personal gain. Oftentimes, elderly victims are exploited because of vulnerabilities associated with advanced age, such as impaired mental capacity. Abusers can be caregivers in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, professionals hired by the elder (such as accountants), strangers, or family members.
Financial elder abuse can take many forms. The abuser may steal money or items from the elder’s bank account or home, sell or transfer property against the elder’s wishes, use the elder’s credit cards for unauthorized purchases, use the elder’s name to open new credit accounts, and create or alter a living trust or will for the abuser’s benefit. Financial elder abuse also can take the form of telemarketing fraud, identity theft, predatory lending, home improvement scams, and estate planning scams.
Unexplained behavioral changes, such as sudden secrecy or reluctance to speak freely, may be warning signs of financial elder abuse. If an elder appears withdrawn, helpless, frightened, or angry, this may also indicate that abuse is taking place. Some of the warning signs of financial elder abuse can be explained by other causes, and no single indicator can be taken as decisive proof. However, a pattern of multiple warning signs may suggest that a problem is present.
The following are warning signs of financial elder abuse:
- Unusual bank account activity, such as ATM withdrawals at a bank the elder cannot travel to
- Signatures on checks and documents that do not match the elder’s signature
- Checks or documents signed despite the fact elder cannot write or understand what he/she is signing
- Unexplained change in spending patterns or unusual/out of character purchases
- Unusual medical charges or nursing home charges
- Generous gifts to a person the elder has only met recently
- Change in lawyer or bank for unknown reason
- Change in who has power of attorney for unknown reason
- Stranger who initiates close relationship with elder and offers to manage finances and assets
Factors which make elders susceptible to financial abuse include isolation, loneliness, physical and/or mental disabilities, and lack of familiarity with financial issues. Elder financial exploitation often goes unreported. The senior may be unaware that exploitation is taking place or remain silent due to intimidation by the abuser. The elder victim may also be embarrassed about the situation or worried that making accusations will cause him or her to be labeled senile or too demanding.
Reporting financial elder abuse can save the assets, dignity, and health of an elder. If you suspect abuse, it is better to err on the side of caution in order to protect an senior from victimization.
About the Author
To learn more about elder abuse and nursing home abuse, visit IQ Nursing Homes, a site dedicated to providing informational resources and legal help for nursing home residents and their families.
(ArticlesBase SC #527608)