Warning Signs of Financial Abuse: What to Look For

Todd Bartimole

Financial abuse typically involves someone, the abuser, using the resources of an elderly person for their own purposes. It is not unusual for the abuser to be a family member who has a power of attorney or other authority over the elder’s money.

To protect yourself or your loved ones from being potential victims of financial abuse, review these signs of being vulnerable to financial abuse and speak with your family about how to avoid these situations when planning your estate:

1. The elderly person being totally dependent on one person for care and assistance

One becomes vulnerable to financial abuse when there is only one person keeping an eye on the aged person. With dependency, the elder often becomes concerned that the caregiver is in a powerful position and can withdraw their help unless they have access to the elder’s funds.

2. A lack of knowledge about financial issues by the elderly person

Sometimes when one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse has no idea how to manage money or financial resources. This can make the elderly person vulnerable to financial abuse.

3. A caregiver with no source of income

If the caregiver is a relative and has no source of income, there is a great chance of financial abuse.

4. New large purchases by caregivers

Similarly, when a caregiver begins buying things they could not otherwise afford, there may be financial exploitation occurring.

5. The elderly person being isolated by a family member or caregiver

One of the hallmarks of an abuser is that they will try to isolate the elder. This is often due to the abuser trying to limit others’ ability to give the elder other options, and to hide the abuse that is occurring.

6. Changes in spending by the aged person, such as newly using cash transactions instead of checks

Abusers often withdraw funds from an elder’s account, and deal in cash, which is harder to track than checks.

Is There a Profile of a “Typical” Financial Exploiter?

Although a financial abuser doesn’t always follow a typical profile, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that “perpetrators are most likely to be adult children or spouses, and they are more likely to be male, to have a history of past or current substance abuse, to have mental or physical health problems, to have a history of trouble with the police, to be socially isolated, to be unemployed or have financial problems, and to be experiencing major stress.”

Elder Abuse, The New England Journal of Medicine, (Review Article), Mark S. Lachs, M.D., M.P.H., N Engl J Med 2015; 373:1947-1956

For related material on this topic read Righting a Wrong: Cavitch Recovers a Family’s Assets from a Dishonest Caregiver by Max Dehn

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