One of the least talked about forms of elder abuse, financial scams target about 500,000 individuals annually and cost about $3 billion per year. These figures from the Nursing Home Abuse Guide make such crimes one of the largest, most pervasive forms of fraud in the U.S.

Why the Elderly?

confused older woman on the phone Financial and elder care analysts point to a number of factors. One, many seniors have been saving money for their entire lives and many are sitting on a sizeable nest egg. In fact, about 70 percent of the country’s wealth belongs to those 50 years old and above. Additionally, many of these individuals living in a nursing home are particularly vulnerable. With few family members or living with a condition like dementia, these factors make them easy prey for a worker to steal their personal information and abuse their assets.

However, most financial abuse involving seniors occurs at home and is committed by their own family members. So, if you are overseeing your loved one’s care, be sure to look out for the following signs:

Who Is Vulnerable to Elder Financial Abuse?

Although old age makes all seniors a target, family members and professionals tend to go after individuals who:

  • Are physically ill and unable to take care of themselves
  • Suffer from a condition like Alzheimer’s or another cognitive disorder.
  • Have few friends or family members.

Types of Financial Scams

Unfortunately, elder financial abuse comes in many forms, often defined by who is committing the crime. These fall under theft, fraud, exploitation, lottery scams and investment or insurance scams.

In certain contexts, a stranger is doing the con. These situations can take several forms, including:

  • Investment broker scams, in which an individual claiming to be an investment broker calls an elderly person, promising a high return on an investment. This often involves having the elderly person make a high-dollar real estate or stock purchase or transferring control of personal assets directly to the broker. In turn, the broker gets a high commission, but your loved one sees savings and other assets dwindle.
  • Lottery and sweepstakes scams, which often request a large upfront payment in return.
  • Repair men, utility workers or salesmen promise to perform work, then collect an upfront payment without completing the project. They may also steal various valuables from the home.
  • Grandparent scams, which involve a call from someone claiming to be the grandchild looking for money. An elderly person who is hard of hearing may believe that his or her grandson is in jail and needs bail money.
  • Charity scams, which ask your loved one for a large donation that never reaches the cause. These are more common after natural disasters and other catastrophic events.
  • Telemarketing scams that tell the elder person they owe money. Calls are often frequent and can becoming threatening.
  • Predatory lending. In these cases, a senior is pressured into taking out a reverse mortgage or using the equity to buy an annuity. While this benefits the scammer, the elderly can find themselves in a dire financial situation. If they cannot make the loan payments, they may experience foreclosure.
  • Phishing scams, by email or by phone, which are fraudulent messages that attempt to steal your personal information.

Scams In Nursing Homes

While many less-than-honest professionals go after seniors, family members and caretakers are often the perpetrators. These individuals usually have or can get access to an elder individual’s finances and may take that money to improve their own financial problems. Such forms of financial abuse include:

  • Forging an elderly patient’s signature.
  • Stealing or misusing a nursing home resident’s money.
  • Coercing a senior to sign documents, such as a contract or will.
  • Getting an elderly person to sign over their social security checks.
  • Power of attorney scams, in which a family member or caretaker gets the senior to transfer power of attorney status. Then, that individual may empty the senior’s savings accounts, transfer assets or property or liquidate all assets.

Signs of Elder Financial Abuse

Are you looking after an elderly family member who is living at home or in a nursing facility? If so, signs of financial abuse usually point to a combination of the following:

  • Unexplained transfers or frequent checks to someone you don’t know.
  • Sudden changes to his or her will.
  • Signs of squalor and poor living conditions, especially if he or she has money saved up.
  • Missing belongings.
  • Reluctance to talk about certain issues.
  • New credit cards taken out in his or her name.
  • A lack of trust, depression or a display of fear, shame, doubt, guilt or remorse.
  • A sudden reliance on government benefits and safety programs after being self-reliant for years.
  • They’re no longer able to pay for long-term care.
  • They lose their home.

What You Can Do

As the primary caregiver or a concerned family member, you can take the following steps to ensure your parent, spouse or loved one isn’t taken advantage of by schemers:

  • Review nursing facilities and do background checks on any home health care aides before making a final decision.
  • Set up automatic bill payments and check deposits.
  • Be in communication with his or her bank and be on the lookout for any suspicious activity.
  • Make sure that your loved one isn’t regularly isolated in a care setting.
  • Work with a lawyer to revoke any power of attorney and have any stolen assets returned.

Unfortunately, elder financial abuse is significantly underreported. Only one in 44 cases ever receives attention. However, if you believe that your loved one is being financially exploited, Trantolo & Trantolo’s nursing home attorneys are here to help. To learn about what we can do to help, contact us today.