Financial abuse is when someone takes or misuses another person’s money or property for the benefit of someone other than that person. For example, neighbors, caregivers, professionals, and even family or friends may take money without permission, fail to repay money they owe, charge too much for services, or not do what they were paid to do. Financial abuse—sometimes called financial exploitation—is a form of elder abuse. As a family member or friend, you are in a unique position to help protect your loved ones from financial abuse. If you suspect financial abuse, you should report your suspicions to the appropriate authorities.
There are four steps to help protect your loved ones from financial abuse:
- Prevent – educate yourself, your loved ones, and your community
- Recognize – spot the warning signs and take action
- Record – document what you observe
- Report – tell the appropriate authorities so they can investigate and help
How to prevent elder financial abuse
Keeping in touch with your loved one is one of the best things you can do as a friend or family member to help prevent abuse. This can help you notice financial abuse and respond right away. Staying involved can also prevent others from taking advantage of your loved one. If others are aware that your loved one has you looking out for them, they may be less likely to target them. It can be helpful to stop by and speak with both your loved one and their care team members on a regular basis, to show that you are involved. If you are not able to visit due to distance, a public health emergency, or other reasons, you could schedule a regular check-in call with care team members.
How to recognize financial abuse
One of the more common and prominent warning signs is isolation. A common scenario is one where the abuser controls the elder’s social life, telling callers or visitors that the elder does not want to talk with them, or providing an excuse that prevents the elder from speaking with callers or visitors. Other signs and symptoms of exploitation include unpaid bills, missed appointments, or unexpected changes in beneficiaries or provisions in a will, trust, or other legal or financial documents.
How to record elder financial abuse
Keep good records. Write down all warning signs you observe. Try to include the dates, times, locations, and details of any incidents, the names of any people who observed the incident, and any photographs or other proof of what you observed. You can give this information to the authorities when you file a report. Keep a record of all communications such as phone calls, meetings, letters, and emails. List the names and contact information of anyone you speak to about your concerns. Talk to staff members and volunteers who may have observed something. Be sure that they also document each incident in their records.
Where to report financial abuse
If you suspect elder financial abuse, report it to Adult Protective Services (APS). APS are social services programs in each state. They serve older adults and adults with disabilities who need help due to abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Adult Protective Services is a common term, but this may not be the name of the agency in your state.
The National Adult Protective Services Association has information about how to report suspected abuse in each state. The National Center on Elder Abuse has information about APS and the process of investigating a case. This can help you understand what happens after you file a report with APS.
If there is an urgent risk of harm to your loved one or someone else, you should call 911 right away. Otherwise, you can call the non-emergency number for your local police or Sheriff’s office to file a report. Some state laws define elder financial abuse as a specific type of crime. Financial abuse may also involve other crimes such as theft, fraud, forgery, embezzlement, or money laundering.
You can also report financial abuse to your local District Attorney’s office and ask them to prosecute the person who took advantage of your loved one.
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