December 10, 2012

Watch for warning signs of financial abuse of elderly

Some of the most heartrending crimes are when a relative or caregiver steals from a trusting family member or patient. This is generally referred to as financial exploitation of the elderly, but don’t let that label put you off, as the not-so-elderly can be victimized, as well. 

It is about trust and deception. There are several kinds of financial exploitation: Some is by strangers, such as telemarketers. But, the most painful offenses are by loved ones.

I’ve seen the teen who wrote checks to herself while caring for her grandmother; the housekeeper/companion of the older gentleman who helped herself to all of his money, leaving his bills — including insurance and mortgage — unpaid; the roofing contractor who befriended an elderly woman and obtained gifts of large sums of money from her.

As we age and need help, sometimes the person providing care takes advantage of our vulnerability by stealing. This can happen without the victim’s knowledge, as it did in the cases with the granddaughter and trusting man. There are other methods, like using an ATM card without authority, forging checks or credit cards, or outright taking money.


Or it may be more open, as it was with the roofer who befriended the lonely woman. It appeared that she loved and trusted him and knowingly gave him thousands of dollars. Other times, the friend, relative or caregiver uses threats or emotional abuse to persuade the dependent person to add his or her name to a joint bank account, sign a power of attorney or transfer ownership of property.

By playing on their fear of being alone or leading them to believe that no one else cares, the exploiter gains control. The more isolated the person feels, the more effectively these techniques work. The exploiter may prevent others from access to the victim by, for example, always answering the phone, telling the caller that the person is not available, and telling the victim that no one ever calls her. 

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