It is common to hear in the media about financial exploitation of elderly Americans. Unfortunately, many families are unaware of the signs of financial exploitation, or how they can protect their elderly loved ones from being victimized by this form of elder abuse. Financial exploitation is the most common form of elderly abuse, with more instances perpetrated by an individual close to the victim. Unfortunately, financial exploitation is also one of the most underreported forms of elder abuse, and is a growing concern for advocates of the elderly population.
Signs of Financial Exploitation
One of the reasons that financial exploitation is underreported is because it can be difficult to identify, or elderly individuals may not realize that they are being exploited. One of the best measures to protect elderly individuals is for families to be aware of the warning signs of financial exploitation. Some of the most common signs are as follows:
• Sudden disappearance of belongings
• Sudden or recurring lack of personal day-to-day items
• Missing medications
• Individual complains of missing belongings or money
• Individual complains of missing documents, statements, credit cards, or checks
• Individual begins to hide belongings or hoard
• Individual becomes easily agitated or fearful around a particular friend, family member, or caregiver
• Individual is consistently spoken for by a “chaperone” or other individual
• Individual has a close friend, family member, or visitor who is known for stealing, gambling, or addiction
• Individual is threatened, coerced, or pressured by a particular friend, caregiver, or family member
Direct Financial Signs
• Signature of individual who is unable to write appears on checks or statements
• Signature of individual begins to change or look suspicious or altered
• Invoices for bills/expenses include items the individual did not purchase/receive
• Individual has reputation of “selling” or “giving” items to caregivers, staff, family members, or friends
What to do with Warning Signs
Anyone who suspects that a friend or loved one is being financially exploited should be diligent to contact appropriate authorities. If the individual lives in a nursing home, a good first step is to hold a meeting with administrators, caregivers, and staff who regularly encounter the resident. Any such meetings should be documented or recorded in the event that any form of abuse is positively identified. If there is a particular individual considered as a suspect, any meetings held should be conducted without this individual present.
All 50 states have guidelines and organizations designed to protect elderly individuals. In order to file a report of suspected financial exploitation, it is beneficial to explore state laws and organizations, such as Adult Protective Services, law enforcement, and the applicable office of the Ombudsman. Additionally, it may be beneficial to contact an attorney who is skilled in managing elder abuse claims.