Financial exploitation is just one of the many cases of abuse that the elderly experience in nursing homes. It’s a form of abuse that involves the improper or illegal use of the victim’s money or belongings for personal use. Unfortunately, financial exploitation is one of the fastest-growing forms of elder abuse.
Financial exploitation is considered a crime. However, it often goes unreported. The elderly are highly vulnerable to financial exploitation as they may be unaware of the value of their assets, and they’re less likely to use technology to help them keep track of their finances.
Who are the common victims of financial exploitation?
The common victims of financial exploitation are elderly patients with Alzheimer’s or any memory-related illnesses or cognitive difficulties.
Unfortunately, approximately 90% of these cases are committed by trusted individuals. They’re often done by either a close relative, a friend, or a caretaker.
Often, caregivers or guardians have the most control over the victim’s finances, such as cash, credit cards, and bank accounts. It’s because the majority of seniors are incapable of managing their assets. This puts them at a high risk of being taken advantage of financially by either a guardian or a caregiver.
Elder Abuse Statistics
According to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other related research studies, seniors in the U.S. are scammed out of approximately $3 billion to $37 billion a year. In 2018, the Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans received over 180,000 encounters of suspicious elder financial exploitation (EFE), involving a total of more than $6 billion since 2013.
Examples of Financial Exploitation
Financial exploitation comes in many forms. Some may be more obvious than others. Here are some examples of financial exploitation that suspects commonly do:
- They are cashing in using the older person’s check without their permission. This is commonly done by someone who was entrusted with the older person’s bank account or checkbooks. They betray their trust and take advantage of their position to make money from the victim’s bank account without their permission.
- Theft or the blatant act of stealing the older adult’s money or their physical possessions. Since nursing homes provide very little privacy to their residents, their doors may be left open most of the time, making it easier for suspects to take advantage of them and steal their money and items. Clothes, jewelry, and cash are the most common items that suspects take.
- They are forging an older person’s signature.
- Deceiving the elderly into signing a document (such as important contracts, their property, or sometimes even their will)
- Using technology to scam elderly people
- Improper usage of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney
- Threatening the victim into transferring assets.
Signs OF Elder Financial Abuse
If you are wondering whether your loved one is currently experiencing financial abuse, here are some warning signs that you need to watch out for:
- Receiving letters from collection agencies or past due notice from creditors despite having no memory of purchasing expensive items
- They have far less money in their bank accounts
- Their credit card balance is higher than usual
- Distress or agitation
- Sudden lack of their basic personal needs or medication
- Inconsistencies with their statements or financial accounts
- They are acting worried or stressed about money
- Odd spending habits despite having no noticeable new items or not going out
- Having a history of “purchasing” gifts to nursing home staff or other residents without their consent
Four Steps That Will Help You Prevent, Detect, and Report Financial Exploitation
1. Know Your Rights
All federal nursing homes are subject to follow regulations and must provide the following resident’s fights and facility requirements.
Residents (or the residents’ legal representative) have the right to:
- Access all records pertaining to himself or herself within 24 hours (excluding weekends and holidays).
- Manage his or her financial affairs.
- Be fully informed of available services and charges for each service.
- To file a complaint without fear of retaliation.
- The facility is required to:
- Protect personal funds residents choose to deposit with the facility and place resident personal
- funds greater than $50 into an interest-bearing account.
- Maintain a full and separate accounting of each resident’s personal funds.
- Make individual financial records available through quarterly statements to the resident or resident’s
- legal representative.
- Not charge a resident for services or items paid for by Medicare or Medicaid.
2. Plan How to Handle Your Finances
All of us will grow old at some point, which is why it is important to plan ahead while we still can to avoid being scammed in the future. Here are some things you can do to avoid being financially taken advantage of during your old age.
- Asking someone you trust to act as your agent (for a power of attorney) make sure that this person won’t betray you in any way
- Receive your benefits (like pension checks) via direct deposit.
- Residents receiving Medicaid are entitled to a monthly Personal Needs Allowance (PNA). If you do not know about your PNA, ask the facility staff or the individual assisting you with your finances.
- Tear up or shred financial documents (e.g., receipts, statements) before throwing them away.
- Consider setting up two bank accounts – one for bill-paying that you handle and one for pocket money. They can access the smaller “pocket money” account, and you can set up automatic monthly or weekly deposits into it for their use.
- Protect your personal information. Do not give out personal information like your Social Security or bank account numbers unless you contacted the person asking for that information.
- Put controls on their bank account and credit cards. For example, anything over $100 needs his signature and yours, or put a lock on any transactions over a certain amount.
3. Review Your Financial Information
Make sure to regularly check your finances and benefits and observe any warning signs of financial exploitation to avoid getting scammed.
4. Report ANY Suspicion of Financial Abuse
All elderly facilities are bound by law to protect their residents from any form of abuse, including financial abuse. Financial exploitation is a serious crime. If you suspect that you or your loved one is currently being financially exploited, here are some things you can do:
- Speak with the facility administrator, social worker, or one of the staff members your trust.
- Call your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. Ombudspersons are trained to resolve complaints. You may visit www.ltcombudsman.org/ombudsman for more information.
- Contact Adult Protective Services (APS). APS investigates reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders and, in many states, individuals with disabilities
- If you feel that a serious crime was committed, talk with the police immediately. The suspect may not only be targeting your loved one, but they are more likely to target others as well. Protect your elderly relatives and other potential victims by going to the police.
Seeking the assistance of an experienced elder abuse lawyer can also be another helpful tool for the victim’s family. A skilled elder abuse lawyer can serve as a helpful legal advocate and guide for your loved one. Financial exploitation is becoming a serious problem across the U.S. The elderly population has the right to be protected from these abuses.