Mind and Body

Protecting Older Family Members from Financial Abuse

It can be hard to discuss money matters with older family members. Many of us may prefer to avoid such a sticky subject entirely. This reluctance can make it easy to overlook a potentially serious problem: financial abuse. It's a type of elder abuse, which affects more than 5 million older adults each year. And experts believe it's becoming more common.

Photo of older man sitting at a computer

Facts about financial abuse

Victims of financial abuse have money and belongings stolen from them. But it isn't simply about scams, cons, or identity theft. Older adults can face financial abuse even from those closest to them. Examples include a family member using an older adult's credit card without permission or changing the name on a victim's bank account, will, or title.

Like all types of elder abuse, financial abuse is a crime. It can happen anywhere - in an assisted living facility, a family member's house, even in the victim's own home. More than 90 percent of abusers are family members or close friends. These people may have drug or alcohol problems. They may also feel entitled to the older adult's money and possessions. Other potential abusers include caregivers, neighbors, or strangers scamming for financial gain.

Risk factors in older adults

Older adults who depend on others for care are more at risk for financial abuse. Other risk factors include:

  • Being a woman

  • Being older than 80

  • Feeling isolated or lonely

  • Suffering a recent personal loss

  • Having trouble managing finances

  • Having a physical or mental health problem

Recent research suggests older adults may be more prone to financial abuse because of changes in the aging brain. Through behavioral testing and neurological imaging, researchers compared how well younger and older people perceive trust. They found that older adults had a harder time determining when certain facial cues indicated untrustworthiness. The results may be related to the area of the brain that acts as an early warning system.

Clues to financial abuse

Determining if your loved one is the victim of financial abuse isn't always easy. Many victims are reluctant to discuss the abuse. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed. They may depend on the abuser for care.

With a little sleuthing, though, you may find clues that point to financial abuse, including:

  • Unpaid bills

  • Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts

  • Piles of unsolicited mail asking for money

  • Changes to property titles, deeds, or mortgages

  • Suspicious new friends

  • Caregivers who ask excessively about monetary issues

You can help prevent financial abuse by keeping in contact with loved ones. Talking with them can help ward off feelings of isolation or loneliness. In turn, they will be less likely to suffer from any type of elder abuse. For these same reasons, encourage them to connect with friends or volunteer.

If you suspect abuse, don't ignore it. Call law enforcement or your local adult protective services agency. You can also find help through Eldercare Locator, a government service that connects older adults with local aging resources. Call 800-677-1116 or visit www.eldercare.gov.   

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

National Center on Elder Abuse

National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse - Financial Abuse

National Institute on Aging - Age Page: Elder Abuse

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