A 2019 study found that financial abuse is more likely to come from family members than from unknown scammers. While scams targeting older adults are a widespread problem, this study found that a senior is more likely to experience the abuse from someone they know and already trust than from a stranger.
It is a very sad and disheartening reality, and it can be difficult to diagnose the issue. It’s easier to see the threat when it comes from the outside: a scam voicemail, email, or mail flyer; a door-to-door salesman; hacked email or bank accounts; and more. There’s typically some kind of trail or clue that indicates to a caregiver that something isn’t right. But when the financial abuse is family, it’s easier and more tempting to explain it away, make excuses, or outright ignore the problem-because surely family wouldn’t do that to a vulnerable loved one.
Financial abuse occurs when money or belongings are stolen. This covers a broad range of transgressions, from outright theft of cash or money from accounts, using the senior’s credit cards for purchases not intended for them, taking Social Security benefits, to forging checks or changing names and details on bank accounts and insurance policies without permission. These kinds of actions are easily hidden or overlooked as mistakes, making the problem difficult to spot sometimes.
This kind of abuse is more likely to occur when the senior is experiencing dementia, other memory problems, or is disabled. The older adult is more likely to forget or be unaware of the financial transgressions, and more unlikely to be able to do anything about the theft.
There are precautions that everyone can put in place, but they typically depend on having your estate planning completed early and updated regularly. Not only do you name a personal representative, but you could request that there be some kind of oversight of the person named to manage your finances. Let’s say you have two children, and you put the older one in charge of your finances. You could request that statements be shared with the other child, or that a third party oversee accounts. You could also choose to have a neutral, trusted third-party manage your finances instead of any relative.
If you believe someone is being abused, whether the abuse is financial or some other type, make sure to check on them in private and ask questions. Know your local resources for elder abuse and how and when to get help.