How to Spot Financial Abuse of an Elderly Relative or Friend

How to spot financial abuse of an elderly relative or friend
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Each year, many seniors fall victim to elder financial abuse, which can take the form of credit card schemes, forged checks, bad investment scams and much more.

That means that not only do they have to cope with sometimes mounting health problems, but the nation’s eldest citizens have to fight off scammers, too — and they shouldn’t have to do it alone.

Leaning on the expert advice of savings guru Clark Howard — whose Consumer Action Center (CAC) takes scam-related calls from people of all ages all the time — and other professional resources, this article is going to show you how to spot elder abuse as well as how to prevent and report it.

What Is Elder Abuse & How to Prevent It?

The Administration for Community Living, a government agency that supports the needs of the aging, says that elder abuse refers to “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”

While many people think that elder abusers are typically health workers in nursing homes or senior facilities, the sad truth is that it is often committed by relatives and friends.

To make matters worse, elder abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in the United States, as many people feel too embarrassed to report that they have been swindled out of their property or, even worse, life savings.

Clark says that he’s heard of some outrageous stories involving elders being exploited.

“I’ve heard of one con man who began befriending an older woman when she simply asked him for directions,” he says. “By the time he was done, she had given him Power of Attorney over her funds, and he steadily looted her over time for $180,000!”

Clark recommends some specific ways to help prevent elder abuse of your loved ones:

  • Stay involved in their lives. This way, you’ll be able to more easily spot problems.
  • Be nosy. Find out what they’re involved in and stay vigilant.
  • “Visit them. To someone who is a shut in, just your presence brings them joy. It may seem dull at times, but never forget, someday you will be in those shoes,” he says.

If they don’t live near you, that’s still no excuse to not know what’s going on in the lives of your older ones, says CAC Director Lori Silverman.


“It is important to stay in contact with elderly relatives and ask questions if you suspect they are being scammed,” Lori adds.

You may be wondering if there are some tell-tale signs that may indicate that an elderly person you know is being taken advantage of.

4 Ways to Spot Elder Abuse

Here are four things to be on the lookout for:

1. Unusual Purchases or Suspicious Activity

If you notice that your usually thrifty grandfather has sprung for a fancy gold watch all of a sudden, alarm bells should go off. Ask yourself: Does he have a new “friend” that he’s told you about? Has someone commandeered his bank account?

2. Financial Activity That Couldn’t Have Been Done by the Person

The Federal Trade Commission says this is one example of what to be on the lookout for: “You discover repeated ATM withdrawals from your bedridden mother’s bank account.”

It’s a good idea to regularly look at your elderly loved ones’ account activity. This way you’ll be in a good position to spot anything amiss.

3. Their Bills Aren’t Being Paid When You Know They Have the Means

The website describes it this way:

“In cases where a family member or friend manages a senior’s finances, be alert to a sudden decline in the client’s lifestyle. This could indicate the caregiver is appropriating the senior’s funds for him — or herself. Watch for things like the arrival of eviction notices for a home where the client has lived for years, utilities being cut off for non-payment, discontinuing trips to the dentist, hairdresser or barber because they are ‘not necessary,’ and other things of this nature.”

4. They Can’t Remember Major Purchases

The AARP says: “This isn’t the garden-variety type of lapse — like ‘I don’t know where I put my keys’ — that nearly all of us experience from time to time. It’s more like when a retiree whose signature is on a bank withdrawal slip for a large amount later says, ‘That doesn’t ring a bell,’ or ‘I don’t recall taking that money out of the bank.'”

Final Thoughts

In this day and age, the elderly are under a constant barrage of scams and schemes as criminals devise new ways to exploit them.

If you think your aging relative or someone else you know is being abused, you can contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311) or reach out to an equivalent state agency where you live.


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