Financial exploitation – what it is, how to spot it, and what to do about it

By Kate Silburn, Attorney, Rocky Mountain Elder Law ~

What is financial exploitation of an elderly person or elder financial abuse? 

According to the Department of Justice, financial or property exploitation means the illegal or improper use of an elderly or adult with a disability’s money, property, or other resources for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain. This includes, but is not limited to, theft, misappropriation, concealment, misuse, or fraudulent deprivation of money or property belonging to an elderly person or an adult with a disability. In any case, financial exploitation is a crime.

Older people, particularly those with Dementia or Alzheimer’s can be vulnerable to abuse, including financial exploitation. 

How can you know if an older person is experiencing financial exploitation? 

If someone tells you they’re being exploited, listen to them, believe them, and help them get the support they need. If this happens, and you need legal support, please call us at (720) 457-4573 or email us at info@rockymtnelderlaw.com. 

Sometimes the person being exploited won’t tell anyone. There might be a variety of reasons for this and it might be a complicated situation with a caregiver or family member. Sometimes it is because they don’t know, or because they are ashamed so they might not tell you. Here are some signs to look out for that may indicate the presence of financial exploitation: 

  • Valuable possessions disappearing; 
  • Forged signatures for financial transactions or on the titles of possessions or assets; ● The sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives who are claiming their rights to an older person’s property or possessions; and 
  • Someone providing unnecessary services. 

If you have access to the person’s financial situation, there are further signs you can look out for. Essentially, be on the lookout for unusual things happening to the accounts. These could include: 

  • Sudden changes in banking practices. For example, if they start withdrawing large amounts of money, if funds start disappearing, or there are sudden changes to their bank accounts.
  • Adding names to a bank signature card. 
  • The unauthorized withdrawal of the older person’s funds using their ATM card. ● Any unexplained transfer of assets or funds to a family member or someone outside the family.
  • Sudden changes to a will or any other financial documents. 

Refer to the Department of Justice website for more warning signs of abuse of various kinds. How to prevent financial exploitation 

There are some simple ways you can reduce the likelihood of someone you know becoming the victim of exploitation. 

  • Encourage open conversation around finances with the elderly people in your life. If they are more willing to talk about finances when times are normal, they may feel more comfortable talking about financial exploitation if it occurs. 
  • Encourage the elderly person to use credit cards that can be tracked – rather than cash.
  • Educate your elderly loved ones about the latest scams and discourage them from sharing their financial information online or over the phone. 
  • Encourage them to get a second opinion before changing anything important such as a will or financial information. 

How to report elder financial abuse 

As of July 1, 2014, certain professionals must report any suspected or actual physical or sexual abuse, caretaker neglect, or exploitation of at-risk elders (persons 70 years of age or older). Colorado Adult Protective Services has a website that explains the law and provides online training. Your local County Human Services department or adult protective services will offer a helpful page with information on adult protection. If the abuse or exploitation is severe, you should call the police immediately. 

If you have any concerns that someone you know might be being exploited, please get in touch on (720) 457-4573 or email us at info@rockymtnelderlaw.com.

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