With more money in the bank than younger people, the elderly can make lucrative targets for scammers and thieves. Family members, financial professionals, caregivers, and nursing home staff are all frequently mentioned in cases of elder financial exploitation.
Awareness of the spectrum of elder financial abuse is the first step toward prevention.
Theft. Outright theft might involve stealing cash or valuables from an elderly person’s residence. It could also involve a fraudster gaining access to an account and then transferring funds.
Fraud. Fraud can take many forms. Securities fraud might involve the recommendation of an investment that is too high-risk or illiquid for an elderly person’s circumstances. An investment might come with a maturity date decades in the future, making it unsuitable for someone of advanced age. Fraud could also consist of a forged signature on a check or a deed.
Embezzlement. This type of misappropriation takes place at the hands of a person in a position of trust. This includes fiduciaries like lawyers and financial advisers.
Unauthorized property transfers. Be wary of new or unexpected names on the deed of an elderly person’s house. Quitclaim deeds are often seen in cases of elder financial abuse. These types of deeds transfer all the owner’s interest in a property and later prevent the elderly person from claiming a valid interest. Fraudsters might also use a life estate. In a life estate, the elderly person maintains the right to live on a property until death. Elderly financial abuse cases often involve tricking an elderly person into giving up their life estate.
Unauthorized check writing and cash withdrawals. These are some of the simplest forms of fraud in which the thief simply steals checkbooks and debit cards from an elderly person’s nursing home residence.
Misuse of power of attorney. If a person with sinister intent has health care power of attorney, they might make medical decisions to hasten the death of an elderly person in order to benefit from a will.
Scams. Scammers often target the elderly. The following are just a few examples of some of the most popular types of scams featured in elder financial abuse:
- Scammers might assume the identity of a grandchild and call asking for money. In these cases, the scammer exerts pressure by indicating some type of emergency.
- Romance scams capitalize on social isolation and loneliness. In these cases, the scammer may state they need a wire transfer to pay travel expenses for a visit.
- Lottery scams promise winnings that the elderly person can only claim if they send money or gift cards. This money supposedly covers processing fees.
- Scammers may also impersonate a government official, pretending to represent the IRS, Medicare, or the Social Security Administration – and demand the elderly person make a payment.
What is Financial Exploitation?
According to a 2016 study from New York State, “Financial exploitation occurs when individuals steal and/or misuse a vulnerable adult’s financial assets and property for their own personal gain, often without the informed consent or knowledge of their victim.” The elderly are more vulnerable to financial abuse due to factors like social isolation and increased reliance on caregivers. Even financially savvy retirees are more likely to suffer from financial fraud.
Who Perpetrates Elder Financial Abuse?
While scams targeting the elderly are often perpetrated by strangers, elder financial abuse is most often carried out by those closest to the elderly victim.
- The study mentioned above reports that 23% of elder financial abuse handled by Adult Protective Services originated from family members.
- Fiduciaries (such as financial advisers) accounted for 21% of cases.
- Only 24% of referrals resulted in criminal action. Claimants took civil action in 7% of cases.
- 26% of elder financial abuse cases involved misappropriation. “Misappropriation” could involve a wire transfer or the unauthorized use of a credit or debit card.
Who Engages in Elder Financial Abuse?
Different relationships pose different types of threats to an elderly person’s financial well-being.
Elder Financial Exploitation by a Family Member
Family members who serve as caregivers are frequently the perpetrators of elder financial abuse. In many cases, family members can easily exert undue influence on the elderly person’s financial affairs, as well as their estates and the designation of beneficiaries.
Elder Financial Abuse by a Professional
Lawyers, accountants, and financial advisers are all positioned to easily take advantage of their access to an elderly person’s private information. Make sure to scrutinize those in positions of trust.
These types of professionals often become trusted confidants. Under the guise of friendship, fiduciaries have gained access to an elderly client’s account. They may indicate to the elderly person that they can take over signing documents, making deposits, and managing investments as a way to help.
It is also possible for a financial adviser or stock broker to exploit an elderly person by recommending high-risk securities. These securities may prove financially disastrous to the elderly person but offer large commissions for the financial professional.
Elderly Financial Exploitation by a Friend or Caregiver
Be wary of situations where an elderly person lives in seclusion with a family member or other caregiver. During the isolation of Covid, elder abuse increased significantly, in part because visits from outsiders stopped, allowing elder abuse to carry on unchecked. Loved ones should consider the possibility of elder financial abuse if someone insists on being present when an elderly person discusses their finances. Other warning signs include missing account statements or sudden inability to access funds.
What Happens When I Report Elder Financial Abuse?
Each state has its own civil and criminal statutes related to elder abuse. How local authorities address elder financial abuse depends on the amount of money and the severity of the crime. These types of violations could result in either misdemeanor or felony charges.
Where to Report Elder Financial Abuse
Where to report financial elder abuse depends on the type of financial elder abuse.
- Contact Adult Protective Services if you suspect elder financial abuse, especially at the hands of a caregiver or a family member.
- If the suspected fraudster is a stock broker or a financial advisor, you can report them to a regulator and contact a securities attorney.
- Report scams that contact an elderly person via phone or email to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Online scams can be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Elder financial abuse is a community scourge. Reporting this type of abuse can help save an elderly person’s golden years from financial ruin.