The abuse and mistreatment of seniors is not just a matter of neglect or violence. Financial abuse is also all too common, and often, caregivers and family members are the culprits.

Elder Financial Abuse

Argentum, formerly the Assisted Living Federation of America, defines elder financial exploitation as “the illegal use of an older adult’s funds or property for the benefits of someone besides the older adult. This includes fraud, theft, and the use of influence over the senior to gain control over an older person’s money or property.”

Whether it is a caregiver or scam artist perpetrating the financial abuse, the problem is widespread and the effects can be devastating.

A recent poll conducted by IPT/IPI asked a wide range of experts, from elder law attorneys to health care professionals, about the dangers of financial exploitation to America’s seniors. The most shocking fact to come out of the survey?

Of the top three exploitation issues the experts identified, the two most common abuses are “diversion or theft of funds or property by caregivers” and “diversion of funds or theft of property by family members.”

“When older Americans are financially exploited and there are no resources left for their care, these individuals effectively become wards of the state,” says Mark Lachs, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of medicine and director of geriatrics, in the study’s press release.

“This is a major problem and we know there is significant under-reporting. I am an epidemiologist and what we are looking at here qualifies as an epidemic.”

Key Warning Signs of Financial Exploitation

Frighteningly, this epidemic is largely invisible. Elder abuse, in general, is difficult to detect because it happens in private settings and often goes unreported.

If the abuser is a family member, it makes the situation even more agonizing and complex.

Sudden changes in a senior’s financial situation, from a loss in control over bank accounts to unexplained new credit cards, can be warning signs of exploitation. Additionally, if relationships between a caregiver and senior are argumentative, strained or tense, that can also be a signal.

Protecting Your Loved One From Elder Financial Abuse

The key to combating the problem lies in awareness.

Health care professionals, individuals and even senior living communities can keep an eye out for warning signs and report cases of abuse to adult protective services or law enforcement.

The survey also suggests that, as a society, we need to provide more financial advising resources to seniors. Over half of the experts polled said that the current resources available to seniors are of little to no effectiveness. They advocate establishing more education and financial counseling programs tailored to seniors and their families, delivered by properly credentialed advisors who thoroughly understand elder financial issues.