In a 2011 self-reported study1, financial exploitation was listed as the most prevalent type of abuse experienced by older Americans. The same study called for a greater emphasis on the identification and prevention of financial exploitation because although identified by elders themselves at a rate of 41 out of 1000 surveyed, it was not documented nearly as often. The impact on older adults can range from depression to bankruptcy, and even physical harm resulting from essential needs like food, shelter, medication, or medical assistance going unmet.
What are the risk factors?
The following factors increase an older person’s risk of being victimized:
- Recent losses
- Lack of familiarity with financial matters
- Physical or mental disabilities
- Have family members who are unemployed and/or have drug or substance abuse problems
Why are older adult’s attractive targets?
- Family members are often the abuser and the older adult is afraid they will be put in a nursing home or not cared for if they come forward about the exploitation
- Many seniors do not realize the value of their assets
- Some older people are unsophisticated about financial matters
- Severely impaired individuals are less likely to take action against their abusers as a result of embarrassment or illness
- Older adults are more likely to be dependent on others for help. These “helpers” may have significant influence over the older person and have access to homes and assets
- Advances in technology have made managing finances more complicated
Who are the perpetrators?
Family members, including spouses, children, or grandchildren. They may:
- Stand to inherit and feel justified in taking what is “rightfully” theirs
- Have substance abuse, gambling, financial problems, mental health issues
- Have a negative feeling towards siblings or other family members whom they want to prevent from inheriting the older person’s assets
- Have a negative feeling with the older family member and feel a sense of “entitlement”
Predatory individuals who seek out older people to exploit them. They may:
- Profess to love the older person, sometimes called sweetheart scams
- Seek employment as a personal care worker to gain access
- Be transient criminals who move from community to community to avoid being apprehended
Unscrupulous professionals or person’s posing as such. They may:
- Overcharge for products or services
- Use their position of trust to gain compliance
- Use unfair business practices
What are the indicators?
- Changes in an older person’s financial condition that could be sudden or gradual
- Suspicious changes in wills and power of attorney
- Addition of names to bank signature cards
- Complaints of stolen or misplaced credit cards, checkbooks, or valuables
- An older adult reporting they have unpaid bills although they have the money to pay for them
- Older adults who appear nervous when accompanied by another individual, or gives strange explanations of why they need money
- An older person reporting scams( e.g.; people who offer to work for cash in advance but they don’t do the job)
- Dependency. If the caregiver is financially dependent on the older adult, financial exploitation may occur
- Lifespan, et al. Under the Radar, New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, 2011, pg. 3.