Financial Exploitation: Know the Red Flags

Older adults, especially those with cognitive decline, are vulnerable to financial abuse. Know what to look for.

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- Posted on Jul 11, 2019

An elderly woman counting her change from her coin purse.

Jessica Bibbo, PhD is a Research Scientist with the Center for Research and Education at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

Have you noticed that your loved one’s bills have stopped being paid, even though he or she should have enough money to cover them? Are valuables or money missing? These are two warning signs that your loved one may be the victim of financial exploitation. 

Many older adults fall prey to this form of financial abuse. While financial scams are committed by strangers with the sole purpose of deceiving the person who is targeted for the scammer’s own financial gain, financial exploitation is committed by someone the person has a reason to trust. Perpetrators of financial exploitation take advantage of the older adult’s trust for their personal gain by taking his or her money, property or other assets.         

Red Flags for Financial Exploitation

Unpaid bills are often the first indication that someone is being or has been financially exploited. This is especially true when the person should have the financial means to pay all the bills. If this is happening to your loved one, there is a strong possibility that the suspected perpetrator has taken money out of his or her bank account and there is no longer enough money to cover basic expenses.

Other red flags are missing money, valuables (including jewelry, electronics and tools) or checks. Unexplained changes in wills or other legal documents such as power of attorney forms, property titles, investments and insurance are also signs of exploitation. Giving expensive gifts or loaning money to a new friend or partner is a sign that “friend” or “partner” is exploiting your loved one. 

Risk Factors

Research has shown that people who experience changes in cognitive functioning, including Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, are more vulnerable to financial exploitation. However, anyone, regardless of their cognitive or health status, can fall prey to this form of abuse. Because victims are often unaware that they are being exploited, it is important for you to know how to spot the red flags.

Where to Find Help

Laws concerning where to report financial exploitation vary by state. Regardless of where you live, however, resources are available to provide you guidance. The Department of Justice has set up a website devoted to the subject of exploitation. It lays out more warning signs and ways you can help stop the financial exploitation of older adults in your community. If you have reason to believe that your loved one has been financially exploited, the Resource Roadmap can assist you in finding the appropriate reporting agency. 

The sooner you recognize and begin to manage the consequences of a scam or financial exploitation, the better, since financial exploitation gets worse over time. Knowing what to look out for is the best way to keep your loved one safe.

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