Elder Financial Abuse Frequently Asked Questions

What is financial abuse?
Financial abuse is “a situation in which person or entity takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains real or personal property when an elder or dependent adult is deprived of any property right, including by means of an agreement, donative transfer, or testamentary bequest, regardless of whether the property is held directly or by a representative of an elder or dependent adult.“
- Cal Welfare & Institutions Code § 15610.30 (2013)

Financial exploitation occurs when a person misuses or takes the assets of a vulnerable adult for his/her own personal benefit. This frequently occurs without the explicit knowledge or consent of a senior or disabled adult, depriving him/her of vital financial resources for his/her personal needs. Assets are commonly taken via forms of deception, false pretenses, coercion, harassment, duress and threats.

What are a few facts about this issue?
    • One in nine seniors reported being abused, neglected or exploited in the past twelve months; the rate of financial exploitation is extremely high, with 1 in 20 older adults indicating some form of perceived financial mistreatment occurring in the recent past
    • Elder abuse is vastly under-reported; only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported
    • Abused seniors are three times more likely to die and elder abuse victims are four times more likely to go into a nursing home
    • 90% of abusers are family members or trusted others
    • Almost one in ten financial abuse victims will turn to Medicaid as a direct result of their own monies being stolen from them
    • Cognitive impairment and the need for help with activities of daily living make victims more vulnerable to financial abuse
What are a few common scams by professionals?
    • Predatory Lending – seniors pressured into taking out inappropriate reverse mortgages or other loans
    • Annuity sales – the senior may be pressured into using the equity realized from a reverse mortgage (or other liquid assets) to buy an expensive annuity which may not mature until the person is well into their 90’s or over 100
    • Investment/securities schemes – pyramid schemes; unrealistic returns promised; dealer is not licensed
    • Internet phishing – false emails about bank accounts
    • Identity theft – credit cards opened fraudulently, etc.
    • Medicare scams – these are the costliest in terms of the dollar amounts
    • What are a few ways trusted third parties exploit vulnerable adults?
    • Using a Power of Attorney, given by the victim to allow another person to handle his/her finances, as a license to steal the victim’s monies for the perpetrator’s own use
    • Taking advantage of joint bank accounts in the same way
    • Using ATM cards and stealing checks to withdraw monies from the victim’s accounts
    • Threatening to abandon, hit or otherwise harm the victim unless he or she gives the perpetrator what he/she wants
    • Refusing to obtain needed care and medical services for the victim in order to keep the person’s assets available for the abuser
    • In-home care providers charging for services; keeping change from errands, paying bills which don’t belong to the vulnerable adult, asking the vulnerable adult to sign falsified time sheets, spending their work time on the phone and not doing what they are paid to do
What are some of the effects of financial exploitation?
    • Loss of trust in others
    • Loss of security
    • Depression
    • Feelings of fear, shame, guilt, anger, self-doubt, remorse, worthlessness
    • Financial destitution
    • Inability to replace lost assets through employment
    • Inability to hire attorney to pursue legal protections and remedies
    • Becoming reliant on government ‘safety net’ programs
    • Inability to provide long term care needs
    • Loss of primary residence
Elder abuse can be prevented if fiduciaries and family members intervene promptly.

Please contact the proper authorities in California if you suspect that elder abuse is occurring. Call the Statewide Elder Services locator number at (1800) 510-2020 for your county’s Adult Protective Services or ombudsman telephone numbers.

* information compiled from official websites of non-profits such as NAPSA, the Wikimedia Foundation and NCEA.