Discussions of elder abuse often center around bodily injury. Physical force resulting in bruises and broken bones is common. So is neglect, as indicated by bedsores, poor hygiene, or absence of necessities such as food and water. But there is another pervasive form of mistreatment that can be just as damaging to our older loved ones – financial exploitation. The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) reports that elder financial exploitation is widespread, with one in five adults aged 65 or older stating that they have been taken advantage of financially. As if that number isn’t alarming enough, it is believed to be vastly underreported, with as few as one in 44 cases of financial abuse brought to authorities. Suspected reasons for underreporting include lack of knowledge about financial matters, severely impaired individuals who are too ill or embarrassed to take action, and fear of retaliation. Financial exploitation can take many forms. People who are related to the victim or in a trusting relationship with the victim tend to be abusers more often than strangers are. Common ways seniors are financially taken advantage of by those they trust include:
- Stealing checks or ATM cards to take money from the victim’s accounts
- Using a Financial Power of Attorney as a license to steal
- Improperly taking money from a joint bank account
- Forging the victim’s signature
- Using deception, coercion, or undue influence to get an older person to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney
- Refusing to obtain needed care for the victim in order to keep more assets available for the abuser.
- Sweepstakes scams that promise an impressive gift or trip in exchange for money
- Home repair scams that offer cheap labor or quick fixes – payment first, of course
- Charity scams that falsely solicit funds for good causes
- Door-to-door scams where the victim is distracted by one person under false pretenses while a second person steals valuables
- Grandparent scams where sending money will free a wayward grandchild from jail or enable a stranded one to travel home
- Predatory lending that pressures seniors into taking out inappropriate reverse mortgages or other loans
- Internet phishing for personal information used in identity theft
- Overcharging for services or products.