Financial exploitation of the elderly is a serious problem in this country, and one we don’t talk about nearly enough.

According to data provided by the National Adult Protective Services Association, one in 20 elderly people will suffer financial abuse in their lives. Sadly, only about 2 percent of cases are ever reported.

Financial exploitation deprives elderly people of the money they need to fund their retirements, pay for long-term care, and afford basic necessities like food, housing and medical care. It can also have serious repercussions for the victim’s mental and physical health.

Financial abuse takes many forms

Financial exploitation occurs whenever someone takes an elderly person’s assets through fraud, force, coercion or theft. Some of the most common kinds of abuse include the following:

  • Stealing checks or ATM cards
  • Misusing the authority granted by a Power of Attorney
  • Promising care in exchange for property or assets, and not following through
  • Promising to pay bills, but keeping the money instead
  • Withholding medical care to avoid having to pay
  • Not providing care despite being paid to do so
  • Threatening violence or abandonment unless the victim turns over assets
  • Telemarketing and internet scams

All elders are at risk

Any elderly person can be a victim of financial abuse – even those who are smart, savvy and healthy.

Elders are more at risk if they feel lonely or isolated, since they might be more willing to ignore untrustworthy behavior on the part of someone who is acting like their friend.

The risk also increases if the elderly person is sick, disabled or suffering from cognitive impairments. Many elders don’t report financial abuse because they are ashamed or embarrassed about what is happening.

The perpetrator may be closer than you think

Often, the perpetrators of financial abuse are in a close relationship with the elderly victim. They could be a child or other relative, a romantic interest, a roommate or a paid caregiver.

In many cases, the abuse starts out small and grows bigger over time. Pay attention to the warning signs of financial exploitation, which include:

  • Unpaid bills or eviction notices
  • Unexplained bank withdrawals or transfers
  • A standard of living or care that does not match up to the elder’s supposed assets
  • Implausible explanations about expenses or the elder’s financial situation
  • The elder being unaware of, or not understanding, their own financial arrangements
  • An unusually close or secretive relationship with a new friend or romantic partner

What you can do to help

If you suspect that an elderly loved one is being abused, your best course of action is to talk through the situation with an experienced elder law attorney. The law offers a variety of ways to address this problem; which solution is best depends on the unique circumstances of each individual case.