Financial exploitation of seniors is one of the most common forms of elder abuse. The National Council on Aging considers financial fraud that target elders to be “the crime of the 21st century.”
There are famous cases such as those involving heiress Brooke Astor and actor Mickey Rooney, both of whom were financially exploited by family members. But all seniors are vulnerable to being victims of financial exploitation, even those with low income. Understanding the wide range of ways in which this type of abuse can occur is critical to preventing it or stopping it. Seniors should know in order to protect themselves. Everyone with aging loved ones should know the warning signs of financial exploitation of elders and ensure that their elder family members understand the risks as well.
If you detect any of these warning signs, don’t ignore them. The financial exploitation is likely to escalate over time if it is not addressed. Our attorneys at The Center for Elder Law are experienced in helping families deal with all the issues that arise when someone takes advantage of an elder loved one. We can help you protect your senior family members from this type of abuse.
Who Are the Perpetrators of Elder Financial Abuse?
The National Center on Elder Abuse says that 90 percent of elder financial abuse cases involve family members or people that the victim knows well, such as neighbors, friends, or caregivers. Seniors who live alone and depend on others for basic necessities are most vulnerable. They are isolated, often lonely, and are likely to be trusting of anyone who seems to want to help them. Elders who have recently lost a spouse are especially likely to be targeted.
Strangers are responsible for a growing number of cases. There is an endless variety of financial scams aimed at seniors by telephone and on the internet. Among the scams most often reported are those involving Medicare and health insurance, counterfeit prescription drugs, sweepstakes and lottery prizes, funeral and cemetery scams, and even fraudulent government agency threats.
Investment and homeowner schemes, such as those involving annuities and reverse mortgages, also target vulnerable elders. Read more from our elder law attorneys about annuity and reverse mortgage schemes.
Disappearance of Belongings, Valuables and Other Property
If valuables and other personal property are disappearing from the elder’s home, it could be a signal that someone is taking advantage of them. Relatives and even strangers may think that the senior will not notice or report missing items. Taking property is often the beginning of a pattern of exploitation and abuse. Theft and deception can escalate over time as the person gains confidence and the trust of the elder.
Changes in Financial Habits and Arrangements
Sudden changes in an elder’s financial behavior, such as increases in credit card purchases, ATM or other bank withdrawals, or checks made out to “cash” are a common indication of exploitation. Even more blatant are changes that add someone as a signatory on bank accounts or credit cards.
If there are bank withdrawals or transfers that the senior cannot explain, it may indicate that someone is tricking them into signing bank documents or even forging their signature. An elder’s urgent desire to change a will or estate plan or documents relating to bank accounts or title to property also may indicate that someone is attempting to influence them unfairly.
Changes in your loved one’s overall financial situation may indicate exploitation, neglect, or abuse. Warning signs include substandard care or bills that are not being paid, when there are adequate financial resources. Being sensitive to changes in an elder’s overall financial situation and specific habits is one of the best ways to identify possible exploitation.
Personality Changes and Increased Isolation
Another sign that something may be wrong is unexplained personality changes, such as your love one becoming suddenly angry, irritable, uncommunicative, or withdrawn. Frequently, an abuser will try to isolate the elder from other family members. These behavioral changes can signal physical or emotional abuse or financial exploitation. Being alert to these types of changes and inquiring into the cause are essential to ensuring that your loved one is not being abused by someone financially or otherwise.
Appearance of a New Friend or Previously Absent Relative
Your loved one may suddenly have someone new in their lives, like a new “friend” or a relative who previously has not been involved in caring for them. People who insert themselves into an elder’s life may be doing so in order to exploit them financially. Relatives who have financial problems, are unemployed, or suffer from substance abuse are known to prey on elderly family members.
Relatives or strangers may appear who want to help your loved one with basic needs like home repairs, running errands, or taking them to medical and other appointments. There are many people who help elders out of the kindness of their heart, but there are also abusers who gain the confidence and trust of seniors by helping with day-to-day tasks for the sole purpose of exploiting them.
Michigan Laws Protect Vulnerable Elders against Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation
The state of Michigan has specific laws that protect “vulnerable adults” against all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation. Those laws are enforced by Adult Protective Services, which is part of the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services. In addition to taking necessary steps to stop exploitation or abuse of your loved one, you should report the suspected perpetrator by calling their 24-hour hotline at 855.444.3911. A person who violates these laws may be subjected to criminal penalties.
Protect Your Loved One from Exploitation and Take Action If You Suspect It
The best way to protect your elder loved one is to stay in close contact and visit them frequently. It is important to have candid conversations about the risks of communicating with and trusting strangers, especially people who contact them by telephone and over the internet. Caution your loved one against giving out any personal information and encourage them to contact you if they are unsure about someone new who has gotten in touch or has offered to help them.
Our attorneys are experienced in addressing the wide range of issues that arise when a senior is financially exploited. We understand the delicate balance of helping seniors maintain their independence while protecting them from exploitation, neglect, and abuse. There are steps that can be taken during the estate planning process to protect elders from exploitation. If it does occur, we can help you navigate the myriad of issues that need to be addressed. Your initial consultation is free of charge.
The Center for Elder Law is a division of Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras. We have provided legal advice to the people in southeastern Michigan since 1970. Read what our clients say about our experience, compassion, and service.
Call us at 248.641.7070 or complete our online form to set up your free consultation.