Identifying Elder Financial Abuse
Financial elder abuse can be the most insidious of the forms of elder abuses because the signs are only evident to people with access to an elderly person’s money. If you are not involved in your loved ones finances, you might not notice that money is missing. Some studies show that financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse, partly because it is the easiest to get away with.
Financial Abuse is a form of elder abuse where a person takes advantage of the trust or the lack of awareness of an elderly victim in order to divert money, property, or goods away from the victim. It can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor if the damages are less than $1,000 and is otherwise considered a felony. California law makes both elder financial abuse and failing to report elder financial abuse illegal.
The Older Americans Act of 2006 codified elder financial abuse, or financial exploitation, nationally as “the fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized, or improper act or process of an individual, including a caregiver or fiduciary, that uses the resources of an older individual for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, or that results in depriving an older individual of rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings, or assets.”
In California, elder financial abuse was addended to Penal Code 368 in 2004, adding it to the list of illegal elder abuses such as physical harm and neglect that will bring stiffer penalties for an offender when the victims are elderly. Before that,
13% of all elder abuse in America is reported in California. Of those cases, 38% report some level of elder financial abuse, costing an average of $9,000. Learning about financial elder abuse could be what saves your own loved one from falling victim.
What Are Examples of Elder Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse is generally understood to involve non-physical coercion or subterfuge, setting it apart from violent crimes such as a mugging or home break in. Because financial abuse can often involve paperwork such as deeds or contracts,
Some examples of elder financial abuse would be:
- Diverting income or social security checks.
- Leveraging an elder person’s credit, via forced cosigner agreements, unauthorized refinancing, or simply stealing and using a credit card.
- Unauthorized sale of property.
- Unauthorized use of identity or signature for financial gain.
- Improper fees or percentage hikes for services that are not agreed upon.
- Using the possessions or property of an elderly person without their permission, squatting.
Elder Financial Abuse Statistics
There are many studies running concurrently about the scope and breadth of financial abuse against elderly people, but is it not easy to get solid data. Between a lack of reporting, people underreporting their losses, and even people unaware they are victims of financial abuse, the pictures painted by the numbers are probably even worse than what we know. According to a New York state study, for every documented case of elder financial exploitation, an astounding 44 went unreported.
Scope of Elder Financial Abuse
Some reports put the percentage of elderly in America that have been victims of financial elder abuse at 8%. That means roughly 4 million of the 49.2 million Americans over the age of 65 have been cheated or robbed out of their money. Elder financial abuse has been referred to as “a burgeoning public health crisis” by researchers at Cornell Medical College, and the problem is only getting worse as a larger percentage of our population becomes elderly.
Breadth of Elder Financial Abuse
According to an analysis by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of cases filed for elder financial abuse between 2013 and 2017, American citizens over the age of 70 lost an average of $41,800 to elder financial exploitation in that time.
Various studies estimate that seniors in the United States are scammed out of anywhere from $3 billion to $37 billion a year. While that is a large range, the true number is likely on the high end as people, not just seniors, have a habit of underreporting non-violent losses.
Who Is Committing Elder Financial Abuse?
The National Study of Elder Abuse reported that in a study of 4,156 older adults, family members were the most common perpetrators of financial exploitation of older adults (57.9%), followed by friends and neighbors (16.9%), followed by home care aides (14.9%). These numbers also fluctuate depending on who is doing the research, but it is commonly held that not only are family members the most likely to exploit an elderly person for financial gains, crimes perpetrated by a family member are the most underreported.
The truth is that anyone with access to an elderly person’s financials can commit financial elder abuse. With internet and telephone scams becoming more sophisticated, it has never been harder to keep bad actors away from sensitive information.
Common Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
You can help your loved ones who have fallen victim to elder financial abuse, but you need to stay alert. Observe and act when you see these signs:
Money going missing
- If you are able to see the bank statements or withdrawal receipts of an elder person’s bank account, make sure there is a destination for all the money. Any unbalanced check transactions or sudden large withdrawals should be a red flag. That can be an opportunity to discuss legitimate and illegitimate requests for money.
Missed bill deadlines, calls from the bank
- If bills are being missed, this could be a sign of financial trouble related to someone else siphoning off money. Alternatively, this could be the first indicator that your loved one is suffering from a cognitive decline. Both are causes for concern in regards to elder financial exploitation. Talk to them about where their money is going and why their financial responsibilities are not being met.
Missing or unexpected material possessions
- Your loved one unexpectedly missing personal possessions could indicate that someone is stealing from them, either directly or by pawning their goods. New possessions could mean they are being sold to, or someone who lives with them is redirecting their money.
Sudden increased credit card use
- If your elderly loved one is not known to use credit cards often but starts, it is time to have a conversation about where their money is going. Credit is easier to deliver to unscrupulous people than cash, and can be a warning sign that someone is trying to exploit your loved one.
How Do I Report Elderly Financial Abuse?
In California, every county has an Adult Protective Services agency. Call the headquarters 24/7 at 1-833-401-0832. You will be directed to input your zip code to automatically be connected to the agency in your county.
Is There A Statute of Limitations On California Elder Financial Abuse Cases?
There is a four-year statute of limitations in elder and dependent adult financial abuse cases. The clock on that four years begins running from the time when the facts constituting financial abuse are discovered, or when the financial abuse should have been discovered with reasonable diligence. After four years, a case will not be heard for elder financial abuse.
Who Can Help Me With My Elder Financial Abuse Case?
If you are looking for a California based attorney for elder financial abuse, Berberian Ain can help. We are passionate about bringing elder abuse to justice and making victims whole again. Contact us today for a free consultation.