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Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes

The public is just starting to realize the scale of financial abuse that con artists perpetrate on our seniors. Residents of nursing homes are vulnerable to financial abuse because, in addition to the reasons that fraudsters prey on the elderly in general, people living in long-term care facilities are captive audiences.

Who Commits Financial Abuse of Nursing Home Residents

Sometimes strangers rip off seniors in long-term care, but the people closest to the elderly commit most of this behavior. Friends, relatives, and neighbors top the list, along with trusted people like caregivers, financial professionals, and spiritual advisers.

Types of Financial Abuse of the Elderly in Long-Term Care

There is no limit to how unscrupulous people can financially abuse people who live in nursing homes. Here are some of the more common methods:

Theft of cash or items in the resident’s room.  People in nursing homes have very little privacy. The doors to their rooms are open most of the time, and a stream of people go into their rooms throughout the day. These factors make it easy for thieves to steal from the residents, and hard to prove who committed the theft. Clothes, jewelry, and other objects in the room are at risk of theft.

Theft of checkbook or credit cards. Valuable that are not locked up securely can disappear quickly in a nursing home. For example, your Grandpa accidentally left his wallet on his bedside table while he was in the bathroom. Someone stole it. Your grandpa lost his identification, all the cash in the wallet, and his credit cards. The thief used the credit cards for a shopping spree, at Grandpa’s expense.

Misuse of checkbook or credit cards.  Unlike outright theft, sometimes people who have permission to shop or pay bills for the elderly person misuse that trust. When paying bills for the senior out of her checking account, the embezzler buys things for themselves, pays their own bills, and writes unauthorized checks to themselves.

Identity theft. Con artists can misuse a senior’s personal and financial information to open credit accounts in the senior’s name and run up debt. For example, the person who stole Grandpa’s wallet can collect Grandpa’s home address, date of birth and his Social Security number. The crook can open new credit cards in Grandpa’s name until he maxes out the cards or gets caught. If Grandpa kept bank account information in his wallet, the thief can steal the senior’s life savings.

Tricking the senior into “giving” assets. A person in a position of trust can deceive a nursing home resident into transferring assets without realizing it. Sometimes thieves trick the senior into signing forms that transfer ownership of their car, home, bank accounts, or investments without their knowledge or consent.

Scaring or threatening a person into transferring assets. When a person is old and sick and afraid of running out of money, they can be at the mercy of abusers. Sometimes relatives will threaten a senior that if they do not give them their assets, spurned relatives will have the nursing home throw him out into the street.

Undue influence. A common scheme is for someone to fake affection on an aged person, mainly if few family members live nearby. Eventually, the con artist will pressure the nursing home resident to make a new will. They will tell the senior lies about their natural heirs so that the senior disinherits them and writes a new will.

Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse

If your loved one has a significant change in their financial status, do not ignore the situation. They may be too embarrassed to admit what happened, but to protect them, you need to find out what happened so that you can prevent future abuse. Some of the signs of elder financial abuse are that they:

  • Receive letters from collection agencies or past due notices from creditors
  • Have far less money in their bank accounts than usual
  • Have higher than usual credit card balances
  • Acts worried or stressed out about money
  • Changes their spending habits, such as they no longer go shopping or out to eat

What to Do If You Suspect Financial Abuse of a Loved One in a Nursing Home

We realize that financial matters are hard to discuss with loved ones, but here are the steps that one should take in the face of possible financial abuse of a nursing home resident:

  • Talk to the senior. You may be mistaken, so it is good to have the facts in hand before taking further action.
  • Talk to the nursing home administration. They might already have suspicions, and they might be able to help you find the perpetrator.
  • Talk with the resident advocate or ombudsman for the nursing home or the state.
  • Consider getting a power of attorney to handle the resident’s finances.
  • Put controls on their bank account and credit cards, for example, anything over $100 needs his signature and yours, or put a lock on any transactions over a certain amount.
  • Consider setting up two bank accounts – one for bill-paying that you handle, and one for pocket money. They can access the smaller “pocket money” account, and you can set up automatic monthly or weekly deposits into it for their use.
  • If you feel a crime has happened, talk with the police. Someone who is stealing from your loved one is likely taking money from others as well. You will protect your elderly relative and other vulnerable people if you go to the police. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone advocate for them, so you could help people who have no one looking out for them.

If you talk with a lawyer right away, you may be able to file a lawsuit to get some of your loved one’s assets back or to stop malevolent people from financially abuse your loved one. You can call 1-800-516-4783 to learn more.