Elderly financial abuse is all too common. According to a MetLife study, an estimated one million American seniors lose a total of $2.6 billion annually from financial abuse.
In 55% of those cases, family members and caregivers were to blame. While caregivers are more likely to be the abuser than a family member, it shows that the people who are closest to your elderly relatives are also the most likely to commit abuse.
Should you become paranoid about elderly financial abuse by family members? No.
But it’s worth taking the time to learn the most common warnings, and what steps you should take if you suspect that someone in your family is a victim.
Elderly Financial Abuse by Family Members: The Warning Signs
We recently created a very comprehensive checklist of all the warning signs of elder financial abuse. You might find it useful if you are looking for a general list of warning signs (not just for when a family member is the culprit). Here are a few of the most common signs:
- Disappearance of valuable objects
- Signatures on checks look different
- Large credit card or ATM transactions
- Names being added to wills or other legal documents
- Unusually low bank balances
Now, the warnings below are specific to elderly financial abuse by family members. These are the biggest red flags you need to watch out for if you’re worried that someone in your family is the culprit.
1. A family member has become secretive about your elderly relative’s activities
If a family member is spending time caring for an elderly relative and is not being transparent about changes, updates, or financial information, it’s a warning sign. This is especially true if they were more open to sharing in the past. Any sudden changes are worth noting.
It might simply be a miscommunication or false alarm. So as a first step, ask the relative who is making decisions and managing activities to sit down with you and update you on recent happenings. Tell them you’d like to be more involved in helping your aging relative, and would love to get caught up.
If they push back and are resistant, or say “yes” but do not take any meaningful action to include you in the future, it’s a sign that something may be wrong.
2. A family member appears to be trying to isolate your elderly relative from you or other family
If you’ve recently found that your elderly relative is difficult to reach or see, but is spending significant time with one particular family member, it could be a cause for concern.
Make a sustained effort to get in contact and reconnect with your elderly relative to better gauge the situation. If you get the sense that a family member is preventing this from happening, consider speaking with other family members to see if they’ve felt the same.
3. Your elderly relative seems afraid to speak in front of a certain family member
If you notice your elderly relative seems tentative or afraid when speaking in front of one particular family member, it could be a sign they are being abused or manipulated.
You should try to find time alone with the elderly relative and ask them if everything is okay. If you cannot do this, find a family member you trust and ask them for help in doing this.
How to Report Elderly Financial Abuse by Family Members
We’ve talked about how to investigate the warning signs, but what steps should you take if you find evidence that elderly financial abuse is being committed by a family member?
There’s a common concern that almost everyone shares: “I don’t want my family member to go jail.”
Part of the reason this type of crime is so common is that it’s not always reported.
Our recommendation is that you contact the authorities, let them investigate further and decide how to proceed. They can look at the evidence and decide what needs to be done, you don’t have to. And you can remain anonymous when reporting this crime, as with any crime.
To file a report, you can contact any of the following:
- Your local Adult Protective Services office
- Your state Attorney General’s office
- Your local police department
There are also advocacy groups and organizations that can help you in this situation. We recommend the National Center on Elder Abuse. They can help you learn more about how to investigate, and how to seek justice for financial elder abuse.
Another helpful resource is the Eldercare Locator, a program by the U.S. government that can connect you to support services in your local community. Their toll-free phone number is 800-677-1116.