The elderly are prime targets for financial scams. Persons over the age of 50 control over 70% of the nation's wealth. Yet senior citizens are more likely to have disabilities or impairments that make them vulnerable to manipulation and prevent them from taking action against their abusers. Some older people are unsophisticated about financial matters or unaware of how much their assets have appreciated. Others cannot help but follow a predictable pattern of receiving and cashing in their monthly checks, making it easy for predators to guess when they have money or need to go to the bank. Many times, the very family members and helpers they depend upon are the perpetrators who unduly influence and exploit them.
Financial abuse refers to the theft or embezzlement of an elder's money or property. It includes a wide range of conduct, from the immediate theft of money and property to the use of deception, coercion, or undue influence over time. Perpetrators may also reap financial gain by forging the elder's signature, forcing them to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney, placing charges on their credit cards without permission, or using any fraud, scam, or deceptive act to financially exploit the victim. Sadly, the perpetrator does not have to be in proximity with the victim; AARP estimates that Americans lose $40 billion each year to fraudulent sales pitches that promise a lottery win, prize win, travel package, or "amazing home loan." Over 56% of the victims targeted are aged 50 or older. Some widespread forms of financial elder abuse include:
• Identity theft
• Predatory lending
• Telemarketing fraud
• Estate planning scams
• Home improvement scams
Financial abuse is devastating for elders who already have a hard time providing for themselves. As such, it is important to recognize some of the most common signs of financial abuse:
• Unusual bank account activity
• Sudden withdrawals or transfer of assets
• Additional names on bank signature card
• Unexplained changes in spending patterns
• Forged signatures on checks and legal documents
• Unpaid bills, notices to discontinue services or evict
The California Welfare and Institutions Code defines financial elder abuse as the taking, secreting, or appropriating of an elder's real or personal property for wrongful use or with intent to defraud. The Financial Elder Abuse Reporting Act of 2005 (Act) requires the reporting of any fraudulent use of an elder's drafts, checks, or orders drawn upon any bank, credit union or savings association. Any person who suspects financial elder abuse should report it the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman, local law enforcement agency, or the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse. Pursuant to the Act, the police, sheriff's department, or district attorney investigating the abuse can then request detailed financial records to corroborate the report.