Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse, costing seniors nearly $3 billion annually. Sadly, many seniors don’t realize they are being financially abused until it’s too late. Others think that only naÃ¯ve or incompetent people are abused, but nothing could be further from the truth. Seniors from all walks of lifeâ€”including former financial managers, bankers, and highly intelligent professorsâ€”have been abused. Knowing the warning signs and risk factors of financial abuse can help you avoid becoming a target.
Risk Factors for Financial Abuse
Ninety percent of financial abusers are family members. Some tell themselves they’re doing the right thing, or that their senior family member won’t notice. Others are simply greedy. And while it might be hard to accept that a family member could abuse you, the truth is that many people become thieves when they’re faced with sufficient financial pressures.
Knowing the risk factors for financial abuse can help you assess how vulnerable you are. The most significant risk factors for financial abuse are:
- Living with or accepting care from a loved one who faces financial pressures, or who does not have a home of their own.
- Suffering from a physical or mental disability, such as dementia.
- Living alone, and/or not having many friends.
- Not having a relationship with a lawyer, financial advisor, or other expert who might alert you to the problem.
- Being unusually trusting. Seniors who don’t question loved ones, don’t monitor their finances, or who delegate decision-making to another person are highly vulnerable.
- Being abused in a previous relationship, including as a child.
- Having a substance abuse problem; this is a risk factor whether it is the caregiver or senior who faces the addiction.
- Being cared for by someone who feels forced to give care, or within the confines of a family where ageism is prevalent or the needs of seniors are considered unimportant.
- A history of financial or will disputes in the family.
Warning Signs of Financial Abuse
Victims of financial abuse often feel ashamed, as if they could have done something to prevent their own abuse. Some are reluctant to admit that they have been abused, turning a blind eye to obvious warning signs. The sooner you notice the abuse, though, the sooner you can take action. The most significant warning signs include:
- Your loved one isolates you from others, by fomenting conflict or preventing loved ones from contacting you.
- Your caregiver has asked you to cut back on expenses, or your checking account seems to be bleeding money.
- A caregiver pressures you to sign paperwork, or to add them to your accounts, without consulting an attorney or financial advisor.
- Your credit cards, driver’s license, or other identifying or financial documents periodically go missing.
- Your caregiver or another loved one seems to have a sudden influx of cash.
- A loved one who previously showed little interest in your well-being is suddenly interested in your finances or care.
- You receive an unsolicited phone call or email seeking money, or a loved one has an unexpected financial emergency that you only hear about through a third party, or via email. These are common scams that target the elderly, and are among only a few strategies that allow strangers to victimize seniors.
- Family members are pressuring you into making financial decisions you don’t want to make. Remember, financial abuse can be a scheme carried out by multiple family members. In these scenarios, this sort of abuse often relies on peer pressure and bullying.
If you have been a victim of financial abuse, the time to act is now. Call the police, and get the help of a social worker or therapist who can help you take the right next steps. If you need financial help, consider a low-interest option such as a reverse mortgage, which can offer you reliable income as you sort through things.
Annie Doisy is a reverse mortgage expert who helps seniors enhance their lives by taking advantage of the equity in their homes. Annie writes for ReverseMortgages.com where her goal is to educate consumers on a wide range of topics around mortgages and other financial services.