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What are the Signs of Elderly Financial Abuse?

Elderly financial abuse, or financial exploitation, is a more common problem than most people realize. Underreporting has led to inaccurate measurements of how often senior citizens fall prey to fraudulent schemes and money scams. The prevalence of elderly financial abuse ranges from 2.7 to 6.6%, although the Securities and Exchange Commission says this likely underestimates the true amount.

The vast majority of incidents never reach authorities. One study found that for every incident reported, 44 go unreported. Cognitive declines and fear of retaliation may keep some victims from coming forward with their suspicions, while others may not realize someone is taking advantage of them. It is often up to family members to notice signs of elderly financial abuse and go to authorities. Watch out for these red flags of exploitation.

Missing Money or Property

One of the most blatant signs of elderly financial abuse is missing money or property. If your elderly loved one is not in a cognitive state capable of supervising his/her own bank accounts, have a trusted family member do so instead. (Be careful who you choose: many perpetrators are friends or family members who are close to the loved one and in positions of power.)

Sudden loss of funds, the inability to pay for things, or forged signatures on checks and other documents can all point to elder financial abuse. If your loved one doesn’t remember signing a check, treat it as evidence of exploitation. As soon as someone notices any unusual transactions, unapproved withdrawals, or missing assets or property, it should raise a red flag for potential financial abuse.

Unexpected Changes to Wills or Financial Documents

Some elder financial abuse schemes involve tricking or coercing senior citizens into making changes to their wills or estate plans. These are the most dangerous schemes, as it can take significant litigation to prove that, upon the loved one’s death, the alleged beneficiary is guilty of financial exploitation or that the deceased person was not in a sound state of mind at the time of the change. Cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s can make it easy for perpetrators to take advantage of the elderly and convince them to change their wills.

Investigate the situation if your loved one suddenly expresses the desire to change his or her will to include a caretaker or acquaintance, especially if the change takes away benefits from heirs. The perpetrator may be guilty of putting “undue influence” on your elderly loved one to convince him or her to make the last-minute changes. Put a trusted individual or representative in charge of financial matters and the estate plan to help prevent this type of elder financial abuse.

Signs of Other Types of Abuse

Elder financial abuse often goes along with other forms of abuse or neglect, as a means for the perpetrator to threaten or force the individual into acquiescence. Keep an eye out for signs of other types of elder abuse: physical, mental, and sexual. Signs may include strange bruises, unexplained injuries, frequent trips to the hospital, slip and fall accidentsbedsoresmalnutritionburns or bite marksgenital injuries, mood swings, withdrawal from favorite hobbies or activities, and depression or anxiety.

As the family member or friend of an elderly individual, visit as often as possible to get a feel for his or her typical moods and behaviors. That will make it easier for you to detect unusual changes that may point to elder abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation. The moment you notice signs of something wrong, contact the authorities. An investigation of the situation may find that a friend, family member, caretaker, nursing home, or con artist has taken advantage of your loved one and stolen money or property. If this happens to your family, hire a Phoenix elder abuse attorney to seek damage recovery from the at-fault party.

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