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Financial Exploitation: What is it and How Can I Get Help?

By Barbara Zebley-Oldani LBSW, Care Coordination Program Director.

Elder financial exploitation occurs when a person misuses or takes the money, property or belongings of an older adult. This type of exploitation can be committed by someone the older adult knows and thought they could trust. It is believed that 90% of all types of elder abuse are by a family member or trusted individual.

Any older adult could be a victim of financial exploitation. Older adults tend to be more vulnerable because they are sometimes more trusting, and can be lonely or socially isolated. This crime affects older adults across all social, educational, and economic levels. It is more common that women, individuals of advanced age, and individuals with cognitive impairments such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, are victims of elder abuse. With our growing population, in particular those 85 years of age and older, it is likely that the number of victims will increase. In addition, there are many families struggling due to the current economic downturn.

The abuse may start with small amounts of income or assets and grow as the perpetrator gains confidence with each successful dishonest act. Often an older adult has great difficulty reporting exploitation by a family member or caregiver, because this person is someone they depend on for care or assistance. They may be embarrassed by the situation and don’t want others to know that they have fallen victim to this type of crime.

What are the warning signs of financial exploitation? You may notice inconsistent, increased or unexplained credit card activity, or newly authorized individuals on accounts. You may notice recent changes to property titles, deeds, refinanced mortgages, Power of Attorney documents, wills, trusts or other documents that you did not authorize.

Education is critical to preventing elder abuse. Take actions to protect yourself. Take care of your health. Stay socially active and involved with family, friends and social groups.  Review your finances and bills on a regular basis.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be a victim of elder abuse, talk with someone you trust. Ask them to help you sort through your concerns. But don’t wait! If you suspect financial exploitation of a vulnerable older adult, report the concerns to the Department of Human Services Centralized 24 hour intake at 855-444-3911. The Department of Human Services Adult Protective Services receives abuse reports and conducts an investigation to determine if the older adult is in need of protection or assistance. Adult Protective Service investigators provide protection to vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect or exploitation by collaborating with and coordinating community resources and services.