How to Spot & Prevent Financial Abuse of the Elderly

November 24, 2020

It's hard to quantify the toll of financial abuse on the elderly. Although we have eye-popping statistics on the financial losses, we also know that most cases go unreported, meaning that the situation is far worse than the numbers indicate.

Estimates range between that $3 billion and $37 billion are scammed from the elderly each year. Now that we are in an unprecedented pandemic where older adults are at greater risk of dying from COVID, financial scams have found new ways of exploiting the elderly. Here are some of the best ways to prevent financial abuse of your older loved ones along with some of the more common scams that target seniors.

How to Identify Elder Abuse

Financial exploitation is one form of elder abuse, and it is not unusual for an elder to be suffering from more than one. Generally speaking, there are 7 types of elder abuse to be aware of and characteristics to help you identify each one.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is hitting, kicking, restraining, pulling, pinching, force-feeding, or any other act of violence against someone. Signs of physical abuse include some of the following:

  • Self-report of physical abuse
  • Unexplained bruises and lacerations
  • Broken bones
  • Untreated injuries
  • Broken glasses
  • Signs of restraint like rope burns

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind. These are some of the signs of sexual abuse.

  • Report of unwanted sexual contact
  • Bruising in the genital or breast area
  • Unexplained genital infections
  • Bloody or stained clothing

Emotional or Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse often goes hand in hand with financial exploitation. The abuse includes threats, intimidation, humiliation, and isolation from friends and family. Emotional and psychological abuse can be quite insidious and difficult to spot, but here are some indications.

  • An older person seems withdrawn and fearful
  • Emotionally agitated
  • Unusual behaviors attributed to dementia
  • Self-report of abuse


Neglect is the willful failure or refusal to provide for an elder’s basic needs. This includes food, water, shelter, clothing, or medical care.

  • Poor hygiene and evidence of malnutrition or dehydration
  • Unsanitary and unsafe living conditions.
  • Medical conditions not attended to
  • Self-report of neglect


A person who is principally responsible for an older adult cannot abandon them just because they no longer want or can afford to care for that person. Abandonment includes these signs:

  • An older adult is abandoned at a hospital, nursing home, or other public facilities
  • Self-report of being abandoned

Financial Exploitation

Approximately 6 in 10 cases of financial elder abuse are committed by a relative. The losses, as stated before, are astronomical and vastly unreported.  Not to mention the emotional and psychological toll it takes on the elderly. We will get into financial scams and fraud, but these are some things to look for.

  • Unexplained withdrawals from a bank account
  • Unpaid bills
  • Another person authorizes themselves on an elder’s bank card or bank account
  • A sudden change in will or trust documents
  • An unexplained transfer of assets to a family member or someone else
  • A sudden appearance of another family member claiming to have authority over an elderly person’s estate. Sometimes this takes the form of petitioning the court for guardianship.
  • Forgery of the elder’s signature on checks or other financial documents
  • Unexplained missing valuables from the elder’s home
  • Self-report of financial exploitation

Financial Scams and Fraud

Financial scams and fraud keep growing, and the purveyors of these scams get more creative and diabolical by the day. The pandemic has added to the opportunity to separate elders from their money. Setting up online mail scanning is one simple way to monitor your older friend and relatives mail for these 6 obvious scams and frauds.

Romance Scams

Scammers exploit loneliness and convince an unsuspecting elder that they want to be companions and then ask for money.

Sweepstakes/ Lottery Scams

A person claims to represent a legitimate company and convinces an elderly person that they have won a sweepstake or lottery. To collect the money, the victim has to send a fee. This is illegal in every state, but scammers and even large companies can still send misleading mail or documents that can trick people old and young alike into sending "winner fees" or taxes to scammers.

Tech Support Scam

A technician claims that you have a problem with your computer. For a fee and release of personal information, they will fix the problem. Worse, some hackers will call or text reporting a fake local outage for the internet or power company. These types of "social engineering" scams can compromise sensitive billing or router information that opens seniors up to identity theft.

Home Repair Scam

For seniors who live alone, this type of scam is widespread. A repair person shows up at the front door and claims that you need a new roof or some other bogus repair. The senior pays for the “repair” that wasn’t needed in the first place.

Caregiver Scam

Although the vast majority of caregivers are honest professionals, some caregivers exploit the seniors they are caring for. Caregivers do this by gaining their trust and accepting cash or other valuables.

Deceptive Advertising

The Federal Trade Commission has uncovered a scheme by companies claiming that their products treat COVID-19. Since seniors are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, they are particularly vulnerable to this scam.

Medicare Scams. Open enrollment, going on until December 15th, is open season for Medicare scams. The basic idea is to entice someone to give their Medicare number by offering free services or gifts.  Or to tell you that Medicare will be sending new “chip-enabled” Medicare cards. With your Medicare number, scammers can bill Medicare for thousands of dollars in fraudulent claims.

Learn who is eligible for Medicare and how you can enroll in Medicare safely.

How to Stop and Prevent Elder Abuse

Regardless of the type of elder abuse, close and consistent involvement is the best prevention method. Pre-planning will save you and your family heartache later. Start protecting the health and wealth of your older loved ones with these tips.

Long-term care planning

Long-term care planning involves setting up healthcare and financial power of attorney. If you suspect financial exploitation, it will be very challenging to investigate without the proper authority. Federal healthcare confidentiality laws will prevent you from obtaining healthcare information unless you have a healthcare power of attorney.

Check Accounts Frequently

Without infringing on a loved one’s autonomy, ask to check their bank accounts regularly. That way, you can uncover any unusual financial activity before it gets out of control. Also, setting up fraud alerts is a great way to protect their bank account with real-time fraud notifications.

Visit Often

You should visit your older loved ones as often is possible (and safe) during the pandemic. But after this health crisis ends, make time to see them in person. There's simply no substitute for an in-person visit. Once you're in their home or assisted living space, you'll notice changes and potential problems that you just can't see on a Zoom call.

Signs of self-neglect or other medical and mental health problems can be addressed. If you live at a distance consider hiring a geriatric care manager or a home care professional to keep you apprised. If hiring a home care caregiver, go through a licensed and bonded home care company.

Watch for Signs of Cognitive Impairment

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can wreak havoc on a senior’s ability to manage their day to day healthcare and financial needs. If you suspect that your family member is suffering from cognitive impairment, have them evaluated. If a physician confirms the diagnosis, support services will be more critical than ever. Seniors with cognitive impairment are much more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Learn more about How to Create a Comprehensive Dementia Care Plan today.

How to Report Elder Abuse

If you suspect elder abuse, report it to your local Adult Protective Services office. All states have mandatory reporting laws. Some states require anyone who suspects abuse to report, and others require only professionals to report.

Bottom line: Report abuse if you suspect it. It is not your job to prove abuse, only to report it.

If you suspect fraud, contact The United States Department of Justice for a complete listing of divisions to report each fraud type. The only way to make a dent in the massive fraudulent activity affecting the elderly is to report it.

Financial Abuse of the Elderly

Everyone has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us. Older adults, although capable and resilient, are more likely to be lonely and have chronic medical problems that impair their ability to make good decisions. Whether you are a family member or a professional, look for the signs of abuse and report when appropriate.

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