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What is financial elder abuse?

Dr. Oluwatoyin Thomas, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Financial elder abuse occurs when scam artists or others take advantage of seniors. Financial abuse is especially concerning in people with memory issues. When families aren’t involved in helping to oversee them, people can be taken advantage of. For example, a case in which a woman had $30,000 in her bank account and when it was discovered she was a victim of financial abuse, $20,000 was already gone. Financial abuse doesn’t just come from scam artists. It can come from family members involved in caregiving who are not acting in the elder’s best interest.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site.  In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Dr. Bonnie Lynn Wright, PhD
Geriatrics Nursing Specialist

Theft and fraud top the list of financial abuses for those over 65 years of age. Financial abuse can happen even though the senior is comparatively competent and living in their own home. Con men don't exist because people are stupid. They exist because they are very good at fooling people.

The classic example is the doting very elderly man with the sweet young thing who's after his money. She is not defined as an abuser. He doesn't feel abused - maybe. But the children certainly are quick to point out that their own - oops! - their father's financial interests are being abused. We have laughed at this old joke for decades. It’s funny as long as it isn't real. Maybe with the advent of 'cougars' the joke will have to switch genders!

On a day-to-day basis in real life, it's the bullying or manipulating grandchild who talks the elder into giving them money or family treasures for some fabricated reason. Or, it could be the "I really don't want to look for a job any more" adult child who moves in and lives off Mom or Dad on a pension. Potentially, it could be a flim-flam house repair artist at the front door. 

Whatever the circumstance that leads the senior to lose monetary viability, it should be investigated and rectified as soon as and as much as possible. Seniors are no longer in a position to re-make the money they have spent a life time accumulating. 

Follow the money. That is very good advice for a lot of situations. But it is especially good when it comes to looking for signs of potential elder abuse.

Any unexplainable big changes in a senior citizen's financial outlook may be an indication of elder abuse. Many times, financial elder abuse can be tied to a caregiver who has access to the senior's bank accounts and other sources of wealth. In some cases, the caregiver will simply steal the money from the senior citizen, figuring he or she won't notice the missing funds and, if they do, won't report the situation to authorities. Other times, the caregiver will bully or manipulate the senior citizen into coughing up wads of cash or ripping up an old will and writing a new one, benefiting the caregiver. Even more insidious, however, is when the senior citizen's funds are taken over completely.

Some senior citizens are more than able to handle their own finances, but many are not. That's where trouble can start, especially if the senior citizen gives the caregiver access to his or her bank account. If you have an elder that you love, keep an eye out for signs of financial abuse.

  • Are there unpaid bills?
  • Can they no longer afford things they used to be able to afford?
  • Do they constantly try to change the subject when you ask about finances?

If you suspect foul play, best to raise the issue with someone you trust before seeking a confrontation or calling the authorities. Finances are a tangled web, sometimes even more so when they belong to senior citizens.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.