When most people hear the term “elder abuse”, they think of it in terms of physical or emotional abuse or neglect and not in terms of financial abuse. However, a few years ago, the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse estimated that financial abuse of the elderly results in losses of approximately $2.6 billion per year.
Elderly nursing home patients are especially susceptible to becoming victims of financial abuse due to mental incapacities, physical issues, dementia, overly trusting, isolation from family members, loneliness, grief issues and a general unfamiliarity with financial matters. In addition, unlike physical or emotional abuse, elderly victims of financial abuse are often not even aware they are victims until long after the events have occurred.
Unfortunately, the perpetrators are usually those closest to the victim and holding positions of trust such as family members, friends, caregivers, nursing home staff and financial advisors. Oftentimes, these people feel that the victim “owes” them for providing care or else they stand to benefit from an inheritance upon the victim’s death. Other times, the perpetrators are motivated by financial difficulties, gambling problems or drug/alcohol abuse.
What Exactly is “Financial Abuse” of the Elderly?
“Financial Abuse” occurs whenever someone takes advantage of an elderly person due to deception, coercion, manipulation, fraud or outright theft of money, financial accounts, beneficiary accounts or identity information resulting in financial gain to the perpetrator. Common examples of financial abuse due to such instances would include:
- Cashing checks without permission
- Forging signatures
- Identity theft – procuring Social Security numbers and personal information to take out loans and credit cards in the victim’s name
- Stealing funds, jewelry or other assets belonging to the victim
- Unauthorized use of or improper purchases via credit cards, lines of credits or moneys belonging to the victim
- Deceiving or coercing the victim to sign a deed, last will and testament, power of attorney, contract, check or change of beneficiary of accounts / insurance policies giving the perpetrator control over financial or other assets either immediately or upon the death of the victim
- Improper use of powers of attorney, guardianships, conservatorships or other fiduciary duties (i.e., duties of trust) owed to the victim
- Promises to give lifelong care in return for property or money or for the promise of property or money at death
What Are The Signs That Someone May Be a Victim of Financial Abuse?
Some of the “red flags” that a loved one might be a victim of financial abuse include
- Unexplained checks or transfers of money/assets to another person
- Sudden and drastic changes to the person’s Will, insurance/account beneficiaries, titles to property or other financial documents – different or inconsistent with what would be normal for the victim under the circumstances
- Evidence of sudden financial distress or lowered living conditions – unpaid bills, eviction notices, termination of utilities, lapsing of insurance policies
- Frequent checks to a particular person, caregiver, family member or financial advisor
- Unexpected / unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts or investment funds
- Missing personal belongings – wallets, purses, jewelry
- Sudden reluctance on the part of the elderly person to discuss financial issues
- Addition of another person’s to bank or financial accounts
- Address changes resulting in canceled checks/bank statements going to someone else
- Sudden close relationship with a family member or other person that is unexplained and surprising in light of the history of that relationship
While it’s impossible to totally eliminate the risk of financial abuse, there are certain steps that can be taken to minimize that risk. These would be such things as:
- Making sure that anyone receiving a Power of Attorney are trustworthy, honest and responsible
- Use of automatic bill paying / direct deposit as much as possible
- Research and vetting of nursing facilities and caregivers, including checking of reviews and references before hiring or placing someone in a facility
- Communication with banks and financial institutions to be especially vigilant for suspicious activities
- Being wary of caregivers or family members who try to excessively isolate a resident or person from other friends and family members
- Considering a court established conservatorship to handle the person’s finances if that person is unable to competently do so themselves (will usually require a doctor’s support)
What To Do If You Suspect or Discover Evidence
If you suspect or discover that an elderly loved one has or may be a victim of financial abuse, you should do the following:
- Immediately have the victim’s accounts closed or blocked from access of anyone else
- Report the suspected activity to banks, credit card companies and even the police authorities
- Notify the nursing home and discuss with the administration (or in extreme cases, remove the victim from that particular home)
- Withdraw or cancel outstanding powers of attorney that may have been utilized in the abuse
Contact an Elderly Abuse Attorney
For over 65 years, the attorneys at Lattof & Lattof, P.C. have been helping victims of negligence and abuse protect their rights and obtain fair settlements and awards for injuries and for the deaths of their loved ones. A nursing home abuse lawyer will work as your family’s advocate to protect the rights of nursing home abuse victims and to obtain full recompense for injuries and losses from those responsible for such abuse. Call Lattof & Lattof today for a free consultation regarding your potential rights and to ask any questions you might have. These elderly residents are some of the most vulnerable and helpless individuals in our society and desperately need someone to protect them and to stand up for their rights.