Recognizing the Signs of Financial Abuse
Embarrassment and guilt are feelings that often accompany being a victim of financial abuse. These strong emotions can play a role in the underreporting of this crime by older adults. None of us want to admit we have been taken advantage of, and this may be especially true for older adults who may be afraid of appearing weak or foolish to their adult children. Many times, the people that harm older adults are family members, which may make older adults feel reluctant to turn them in to the authorities. If an older adult is abused by a caregiver, they may not report the crime because they are afraid of retaliation. Some older adults with cognitive impairment may not be aware they are being exploited, or may find the whole situation confusing. This can make it especially difficult for a crime to be reported.
It is important for all of us to know the signs of financial exploitation so we can help prevent this from happening to our loved ones, such as our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or dear friends. There are several warning signs to look for and then to question further, such as:
- A loved one suddenly not being able to spend money the way they typically do, or not having enough money to pay their bills when they always have before
- A loved one being forced to sell valuables
- A loved one buying things that they don’t need
- A loved one experiencing sudden changes to their financial matters, such as:
- The changing of property titles
- The changing of policy beneficiaries or Powers of Attorney
- The creation of a new Last Will and Testament
If we have access to our loved one’s bank statements, we should look for account activity that wouldn’t have been possible for our loved one to do, such as an ATM withdrawal while they are bedridden. Any large withdrawals or transfers of money should also create suspicion.
Older people with dementia are particularly vulnerable. If our loved one is still in control of their finances, we should make sure they can understand the decisions they are making and be alert for anyone in their circle that seems to be a little too interested in our loved one’s financial situation.
As hard as it can be to accept, a caregiver could be a perpetrator. Caregivers who are under financial stress and those with drug or alcohol problems may be potential abusers. If our loved one is being kept isolated from family and friends, or if we notice they are not receiving quality care that we know they should be able to afford, investigate the situation. Older adults being abused are typically afraid to speak in front of their caregiver.
If we suspect abuse, we should report it to the authorities or Adult Protective Services.
A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.