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Understanding Elder Financial Abuse: To Protect Ourselves and Our Loved Ones

Apr 22, 2024
Woman hugging her elderly mother

Elder financial abuse is a distressing and unfortunately prevalent form of exploitation that results in devastating consequences. According to a report conducted by AARP, an estimated 28.3 billion is lost each year as a result of elderly financial abuse occurring in victims over the age of sixty.

In this informational blog, we'll delve into defining elder financial abuse, provide examples, and offer practical ways you can protect yourself and your elderly loved ones.

What is Elder Financial Abuse

In 2022, roughly $330 million in losses were reported to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Network as a result of text scams. Fake texts posing as your credit union are a combination of two deceptions – impersonation and smishing. Elder financial abuse involves the unauthorized or improper use of an aging individual's funds, property, and/or assets by someone in a position of trust or authority. Those most at risk for financial elder abuse include older adults who depend on personal care from others or are living in a long-term care facility, are experiencing cognitive challenges or other serious health issues, or have recently lost a spouse who managed household finances. 

Tips for Elders and Their Loved Ones

Helping safeguard and enrich the lives of our senior loved ones begins with education and vigilance. This means taking protective measures to keep yourself and your loved one’s financial well-being safe.

  • Store important information in a secure location with limited access.
  • Regularly monitor bank accounts and credit reports for suspicious activity
  • Properly store and dispose of important paperwork with accounts numbers or other sensitive personal information.
  • Do not broadcast valuable items you own or possess.
  • Get a second opinion from someone you trust before making investment decisions.

People over the age of sixty are often targeted because of their trusting nature and financial security. As more older adults conduct personal business online and engage with family and friends through social media, it’s important to stay informed about techniques and common scams aimed at seniors.

Signs of Financial Elder Abuse

Elder financial abuse can range from stealing funds or forging financial documents, to misappropriating assets. However, the warning signs that a loved one may be a victim may not be as obvious as we may think. Trusted family, friends, and acquaintances are especially important in protecting their elderly loved ones from financial abuse. When looking for signs of financial exploitation, be sure to pay attention to changes in financial and behavioral patterns.

Changes in Financial Patterns

  • Unusual shifts in financial transactions, including large or frequent withdrawals/transfers.
  • Increased account activity or opening of new accounts or credit cards.
  • Sudden use of ATM/Debit card with no history of prior use.
  • Increased credit card balances or unpaid bills. 

Changes in Behavior

  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated from family and/or friends.
  • Showing signs of emotional irritability, depression, or anxiety.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns or eating habits.
  • Sudden interest in a new friend, companion, or romantic interest.

Caucasian woman explaining some documentation or bill papers

How to Protect and Stop Elder Financial Abuse

Detecting and combating financial abuse is a serious matter. By understanding what constitutes financial abuse, recognizing the warning signs, and taking steps to protect oneself and our elderly loved ones, we can help prevent financial exploitation from happening.

  1. Stay Informed: Educate yourself and your loved ones about the signs and risks of financial elder abuse.
  2. Establish Power of Attorney: Designate a trusted individual as power of attorney to manage financial affairs if needed, ensuring they act in the best interests of the elderly loved one.
  3. Monitor Financial Accounts: Regularly review bank statements, credit card transactions, and other financial records for any suspicious activity or unauthorized transactions.
  4. Set Limits and Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries regarding financial assistance and transactions and be cautious about sharing sensitive information with others.
  5. Seek Professional Advice: Consult with a reputable financial advisor or attorney to ensure financial decisions are made prudently and with the elderly loved one’s best interests in mind.
  6. Stay Connected: Maintain regular contact with elderly relatives and friends to detect any signs of isolation, manipulation, or unusual behavior that may indicate financial abuse. 
  7. Report Suspicious Abuse: If you suspect elder financial abuse, report it to the appropriate authorities, such as their financial institution, Adult Protective Services (APS), or law enforcement.

Remember, vigilance, education, communication, and advocacy are key to safeguarding against elder financial abuse, and promoting a safe and supportive environment for seniors to thrive. If you suspect you or an elderly loved one may be a victim of financial exploitation, contact Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services or the South Carolina Department of Social Services immediately. For instances involving a Peach State FCU account, contact us at 678.889.4328 or visit a branch location near you.

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