Financial abuse of older adults isn’t often talked about, but it’s one of the largest underreported crimes happening in today’s world. Though it can be hard to detect at times, financial abuse can include everything from bogus lottery scams to diverting guardianship. If you’ve noticed several red flags of potential abuse and you suspect someone you know is being financially exploited here are the steps you can take to gather information and file a report.
Discuss your concerns with your loved one and don’t blame the victim
Your loved one may become more secretive and make the situation worse if they feel cornered, ashamed or embarrassed. Have a calm conversation but make sure you are patient, understanding and nonjudgmental. By gently talking with them and asking questions you can get a better sense of their mental state and an understanding of their affairs. This may have to happen over multiple conversations. If they allow it, go over their banking and financial statements with them and/or discuss them with their attorney, financial planner or banker.
Subtly “challenge” the person suspected of exploitation
Often asking probing questions in a non-threatening tone will deter the person because they know you are on to them. It may be difficult to report the suspected abuser, especially if the person is someone you or your loved one knows and is close to. Many seniors are intimidated by the person abusing them and are too frightened to report the problem themselves. Your loved one may even discourage you from going to Adult Protective Services or the police about this matter, but you must do your part to protect those who are vulnerable.
The sooner you take steps to halt losses and recoup lost funds—which can include notifying law enforcement, Adult Protective Services, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report scams—the greater your likelihood of success and your chances of preventing further financial exploitation.
For things like mail fraud, repair scams, credit card abuse or theft of valuables or property, call the local police department about an “illegal taking.”
If the victim is in a nursing home and being exploited by staff or other residents, call Adult Protective Services and ask for help. You should also contact the state’s nursing home ombudsman to report your suspicions.
Where the financial abuse is due to cognitive or physical impairment, make an anonymous call to your county’s Department of Senior and Adult Services or your state’s Elder Abuse Hotline.
While reporting abuse may feel intimidating, Adult Protective Services in your area can help walk you through the process. It’s important for relatives, neighbors, and caregivers to look after society’s most vulnerable. Abusers are less likely to target elders who have a network of family and friends looking out for them. If you suspect abuse, contact them for help as soon as possible.