Although massively underreported, financial exploitation is increasingly becoming a rampant form of abuse among aging adults, particularly those with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. These crimes are now so widespread that elderly financial abuse is often called “the crime of the twenty-first century.” According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), one in nine seniors has reported being abused, neglected or exploited within the last year, and one in twenty seniors has indicated some form of perceived financial mistreatment.
Unfortunately, most abusers are close friends, acquaintances, or family members who take advantage of situations of cognitive decline and diminished capacity; in fact, NAPSA reports that 90 percent of abusers are family members or trusted others. Financial abuse can take many forms, from soliciting for fake charities to telemarketing scams and identity theft. If you have elderly family members, understanding the warning signs of financial elder abuse and how to prevent it can help protect your loved ones from falling victim to these crimes.
Who is at risk for financial elder abuse?
Elderly people who live in social isolation, need help with the activities of daily living, or are experiencing declining mental or physical health are typically most vulnerable to financial elder abuse. According to a 2011 Study of Financial Elder Abuse by Metlife, women are more likely to be victims of elder abuse than men, and most victims of financial exploitation are between the ages of 80 and 89. However, men and women of all races, economic status, and health levels are at risk.
What are the warning signs of financial exploitation?
The National Center on Elderly Abuse defines financial or material exploitation as the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property or assets. Common signs of financial exploitation may include:
- Unexpected changes in bank account balances or banking practices
- Allowing a new friend or trusted acquaintance to make decisions on the elderly person’s behalf
- Unauthorized or unexplained financial account withdrawals
- Disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
- Unanticipated transfer of assets to a family member or friend
- Sudden changes to a will or other important financial documents
In addition to financial consequences, elder abuse can also have emotional effects such as depression, irritability, withdrawal from normal activities or strained relationships—warning signs easy to dismiss in aging individuals with declining health.