Elder financial abuse is one of the most common forms of elder abuse. For the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 fiscal years, financial abuse was the second most common form of elder abuse reported to Contra Costa County Adult Protective Services, with self-neglect as number one. Given that elder abuse is vastly underreported, we can infer that many seniors in our community have been victims of financial abuse. Given how common financial abuse is, it is important that seniors learn to identify and prevent financial abuse.
What is Elder Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse occurs when a person takes the property of an elder, including the elder’s money, for a wrongful use. Financial abuse also includes taking an elder’s property and intending to defraud the elder. To constitute abuse, the person taking the elder’s property must know or should know that their actions will likely harm the elder. Lastly, if you help another person commit financial abuse, you yourself are also guilty of financial abuse.
Elder financial abuse can include a range of things, including scams, stealing, identity theft, and fraud. Examples of financial abuse are numerous. Other examples include:
- An elder gives you money to purchase items for the elder and you keep the change or buy items for yourself without the elder’s permission
- Writing checks to yourself from the elder’s checkbook and forging the elder’s signature
- Using the elder’s money to pay your own bills
- Using the elder’s credit card to buy things for yourself, without the elder’s permission
- Asking an elder to invest in a fake business or donate to a fake charity
Who Commits Elder Financial Abuse?
There are many different categories of people who commit elder financial abuse. Often, the abusers are family members, such as adult children. Caregivers also commit financial abuse, as do financial advisors and lawyers. New “friends” can financially abuse seniors, often befriending the senior in an attempt to steal that senior’s assets. Scam artists and strangers abuse seniors as well by scamming, defrauding, and stealing the identities of the elder.
Signs of Financial Abuse
It is important that seniors, their relatives, and their caregivers learn how to recognize financial abuse. Signs of financial abuse include:
- Investments in inappropriate financial products, timeshares, or other property
- Signatures on checks that do not resemble the elder’s signature
- Checks written out to Cash
- Expensive gifts made by the elder
- Inappropriate or strange banking activities, including unusually large withdrawals from ATMs
- Changes to an elder’s will, trust, or transfer of death deed while the elder is under the care of another
- An elder taking their name off property titles
- A senior setting up a new will or power of attorney, or other legal documents, when the senior lacks mental capacity
- Relatives who want to “conserve” or withhold money that should be spent on the senior’s care
- Reluctance or refusal by relatives or a caregiver to spend money on the senior’s care, where those individuals are responsible for that care
- New acquaintances or long-lost family members who suddenly want to spend time with an elder and who are expressing an interest in the elder
- A caretaker who is inappropriately interested in the elder’s finances
- Lack of spending on an elder’s amenities, bills, housing, personal care, or other maintenance needs where the elder has the resources to meet these needs
This list is not exhaustive. To learn more about the indicators of financial abuse, click here.
How to Protect Yourself from Financial Abuse
Seniors can take steps to prevent financial abuse. When setting up a durable power of attorney, seniors should consult an attorney and be very cautious in selecting an agent. You should only select an agent who you trust and who you are certain can competently manage your finances and property. Do not select an agent who has trouble managing their own finances or who has trouble with debt. Contact Contra Costa Senior Legal Services if you want to learn more about durable powers of attorney and if you want to set one up. We perform this service for free.
Take your time when entering into a financial transaction and do your homework. Never rush into a deal; rarely is there a good reason to rush. Ensure that the entities you are working with are legitimate and licensed, where appropriate. Never sign anything without reading it and making sure you understand what you are agreeing to. Many contracts and documents are long and may seem confusing. If you are unable to read these documents yourself, consult a trusted individual to help you. In managing your finances, work only with people or companies who you trust and who you are familiar with. Get everything in writing and do not accept an oral promise if money or property are involved.
Many scams happen over the phone, so don’t answer calls from strangers. Don’t be afraid to say no to people who call you up or come to your door and ask you for money. Before you wire or transfer money, talk to a trusted friend or family member who can help you make sure that you are not being scammed. Beware of giving others access to your computer and of anyone who tells you that there is something wrong with your device, as this is a common scam.
Where Can you Report Financial Abuse?
If you think you may have been a victim of financial abuse, you can call Contra Costa Senior Legal Services for assistance at (925) 609-7900. You can also report the abuse to the police and to Adult Protective Services by calling (877) 839-4347.