Financial abuse, fraud, and theft can happen to anyone at any time in their lives. However, elderly populations are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse for many reasons. Often, the elderly have spent time and energy saving money for retirement and for their children. In addition, many degenerative mental and physical diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia make older populations more susceptible to fraud. Furthermore, older people tend to have less experience with technology and are therefore often forced to trust friends, family, and even strangers to perform tasks that many of us choose to do ourselves, such as check their bank account, transfer money, or manage assets. In nursing homes, aspects of resident's financial lives may be controlled by people working within the facility.
Rates of financial exploitation of the elderly can be difficult to pin down, as it does not always go reported and there are tens of millions of elderly individuals living in the US. However, one commonly cited study of 2,022 elderly people conducted in 2010 found that 15-20% of elderly people reported that they had “been taken advantage of financially in terms of an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or outright fraud.” In addition, around half of those interviewed showed warning signs for financial exploitation, such as having received calls asking for money, not understanding financial decisions that were being made for them, or being pressured to change the way they handle their money.
Examples of Financial Exploitation
While financial exploitation can be as simple as stealing an elderly person's assets or belongings, it often comes in more complex and unexpected forms. People who commit these kinds of crimes have created sophisticated methods of manipulating elderly people into willingly giving them their money or information. For this reason, it is important to educate yourself on the different forms that financial exploitation often takes in order to be able to spot them when they occur. Adult Protective Services has compiled a list of the kinds of reports that they get involving financial exploitation of the elderly. It includes
- Theft, such as taking an individual's money, social security, property, jewelry, or even medication
- Fraud, when those entrusted with an individual's assets or accounts spend the money on something that the owner did not authorize, commonly through forgery of records, checks, and documents
- Real Estate, if the individual's property is sold, transferred, or altered in some way without the permission of the owner
- Contractors, when someone is paid by an elderly individual for a job such as renovation or repair of a household item, and they fail to complete the task
- Lottery scams, in which an elderly person is convinced that they have won property or prizes from lotteries and must give payments or information in order to collect
- Electronic, when the exploitation comes from an unknown online source that demands bank information, wire transfers, or faxes by appealing to the elderly person's emotions or sometimes holding their computer ransom
- Mortgage, if a predatory company or individual offers financial products such as loans which are “unaffordable or out-of-compliance with regulatory requirement”
- Investment, often made by financial advisors without the knowledge or consent of the individual in order to make money for the advisor by generating commissions
- Insurance, when elderly people are sold unnecessary insurance, such as 30-year annuities, or their life insurance policy is traded without their knowledge
This broad list of topics hides some of the more egregious forms that financial exploitation can take. Online predators can perpetrate “sweetheart” scams in which they pretend to be in love with the older individual in order to evince favors and monetary gifts from them. They may seek to ingratiate themselves with the older person by becoming their caretaker and gaining access to their financial matters. Some go so far as to check obituaries and contact recently widowed people who are vulnerable to emotional and financial exploitation.
Signs of Financial Exploitation
Unlike physical abuse, financial exploitation does not usually leave obvious visual markers or signs. There are ways, however, to recognize the warning signs or effects of this kind of elder abuse. If you notice any of the following behaviors or situations, it is important to get involved and take steps to protect your loved one from possible exploitation.
- Gas, water, or heating is turned off in your loved one's living space
- Management of financial assets or property turned over to someone new suddenly or without logical necessity
- Giving away money to “new friends” or to people who have no history with the elderly individual
- Uncharacteristic spending, either more than usual or on items that the individual did not formerly spend money on
- Inability to explain one's own finances, or giving improbable or impossible explanations for purchases or activity
- Checks written to “Cash”
- Inability to pay bills, lease, or mortgage, even though income should be enough to cover expenses
- Disappearance of important financial documents
All of these situations could have reasonable explanations, but they can be important signs for recognizing exploitation. Other contributing factors that make exploitation of the elderly more likely include isolation, loneliness, the recent loss of a loved one, degenerative mental disorders, and a lack of familiarity with technology and financial matters.
Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes
Unfortunately, financial exploitation can occur even in places where residents are supposed to be protected. Facility caregivers, who often make minimum wage or just above, may see the residents as easy targets and forge a resident's signature, steal their property, or ask them for financial favors in order for better care or access to items in the facility. Since residents often trust caretakers implicitly with their well-being, staff may be able to convince them to sign documents or make financial promises that they do not understand. If you feel that a loved one is being financially exploited, an experienced elder abuse attorney can help advise you as to how to move forward. Call trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian today at 800.529.6162 or contact them online.