Financial abuse is one of the most reported types of abuse and is often directed at vulnerable adults. Perhaps most alarming is that roughly two-thirds of the abusers are family members, often the victim’s spouse, adult children or grandchildren.
Research also shows that abusers may be dependent on the victim’s resources, live in the victim’s home and may have additional personal problems, such as substance abuse.
Everyone has the right to be safe from physical, emotional or financial abuse, neglect or abandonment, confinement or intimidation.
Hidden Problem of Elder Abuse
The victim may depend on the abuser’s care and suffer from isolation inflicted by the person caring for him or her. There may also be a fear of retaliation causing the victim to stay silent.
The victim is too frightened, too ashamed or too ill to think clearly enough to tell someone.
Adult children and grandchildren are often the abusers. Sometimes it’s a spouse, a sibling, acquaintance or caregiver. In any of these cases, the victim may remain silent to protect the abuser from legal consequences.
Neighbors are hesitant to get involved, they may not recognize there is a problem or do not know whom to call.
Perpetrators usually will not stop unless they are caught.
See Also: Elder abuse: When caregiving goes wrong
What Can You Do?
- Be involved with your family and friends by building a foundation of your trusted relationships.
- Do not become isolated or let anyone else isolate you.
- Seek out the trusted people in your life to help and/or advise you when you have problems doing things for yourself.
- Visit your doctor regularly to discuss any physical or emotional problems you are having. Get referrals for help or services that you need.
- Get your financial affairs in order now before you experience declining health or memory loss.
- Be actively involved in your finances and know how to manage your money yourself, or appoint a trusted advisor.
- Always assert your right to be treated with dignity and respect. Be clear about what you will and will not tolerate. Set boundaries.
Isolation and Exploitation
Isolation Warning Signs
Isolation is the tool used by many abusers to systematically limit and/or exclude outside contact. It can take many forms, including the following:
- The victim is not given the opportunity to speak freely or contact others without the abuser being present.
- The phone may be made inaccessible to the older adult, unaware someone has called for him or her, leading the victim to feel alone.
- Assistive devices such as hearing aids, eye glasses, or walkers may be out-of-reach or “lost,” limiting the victim’s mobility and independence.
- The victim is eventually driven to distrust friends, doctors and even close family members.
- The victim then becomes a pawn manipulated into trusting only the abuser.
Exploitation Warning Signs
Elderly financial abuse includes a broad range of schemes from identity theft to abuse of power of attorney and guardianship, instances where the funds of the older adult, property or assets are illegally or improperly used for another person’s profit or gain. The abuser often preys on the generosity, sympathy, emotions or naiveté of an elderly person. It is important that in-home providers and caregivers are properly licensed or certified. Warning signs include the following:
- Sudden changes in spending patterns and bank account activity, such as unexplained and unauthorized withdrawals on ATM cards.
- Forged checks, newly added signatures to financial transactions or the titles of possessions.
- Abrupt changes in a will and other financial documents or a sudden transfer of assets.
- Unexplained loss of funds or valuable possessions.
- Unexplained unpaid bills.
- Sudden appearance of a relative claiming rights to possessions or a new best friend offering to manage the elder’s finances and assets.
Behavioral Warning Signs of Abuse or Exploitation
- Feelings of helplessness
- Emotionally numb or dispirited
- Emotional pain or distress
- Anxious behavior
- Frightened or hesitant to talk freely
- Confused or extremely forgetful
IF YOU SEE IT, REPORT IT
Remember, law enforcement and social service agencies cannot be everywhere. It takes all of us to help make sure that those who need protection are safe. If you see abuse or suspect abuse report it! All abuse can be reported in confidence and all of the complaints are investigated.
Intervention can often save the assets, health, dignity or even the life of an older adult. Report fraud or financial exploitation at 1-800-222-4444.
Read Protecting Yourself Against Consumer Fraud part 2: Avoiding Victimization