Protecting Our Seniors: Top Ways to Spot and Stop Elder Abuse

In Colorado, more than 11,000 incidents of adult abuse, exploitation, or neglect arereported each year, of which 70 percent are victims over age 60, according to the Colorado Coalition for Elder Rights and Abuse Prevention (CCERAP). Top among this abuse is financial exploitation, which is the illegal or improper use of an elder person’s resources, assets or property. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the most common types of financial mistreatment were having someone steal or spend their money, sell or take their property, or forge their signature. Elder risk factors such as isolation, physical or mental disabilities, lack of familiarity with financial matters, and family members who are unemployed or have substance abuse issues become fertile ground for an abuser.

“Abusers don’t want to pay for the victim’s expensive personal care, medical care and drugs, or even nutrition and hydration, because they view the victim’s money as their own,” says Kathleen Quinn, Executive Director of the National Adult Protective Services Association.

While the U.S. has no national reporting system to track financial exploitation of elders, the National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that about 13 percent of elder abuse allegations involve financial mistreatment. In the only national study that attempted to define the scope of elder abuse, the vast majority of abusers, or 90 percent, were family members. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be victims of elder financial abuse, with most between the ages of 80 and 89, who lived alone, and required some level of help with either health care or home maintenance.

In 2009, MetLife estimated that the annual financial loss to victims of elder financial abuse is at least $2.9 billion. However, a 2015 study by True Link, which provides financial protection services for seniors, estimates that elder financial abuse has grown to a staggering $36.5 billion annually.

“The amount of money stolen from seniors has risen sharply in recent years,” says Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Seniors may be dependent on caretakers who are able to access their finances. Abusers often assume that the victim will be too embarrassed or too frail to pursue legal action against them, and unfortunately that assumption is too often proven to be correct.”

To help people put a stop to elder financial abuse, the National Center on Elder Abuse and the CCERAP spotlight the top red flags to look for:

  • Unusual bank account activity, including sudden large withdrawals or expenditures that are inconsistent with the victim’s past financial history.
  • Lack of basic amenities and unpaid bills that the victim could afford.
  • Elder “voluntarily” giving uncharacteristically excessive financial reimbursement or gifts for needed care and companionship.
  • Caregiver has control of elder’s money and is evasive about financial arrangements.
  • Elder has signed over rights in legal documents or made property transfers but is unable to comprehend the meaning of the transactions.

If you suspect that you or someone you love is the victim of elder financial abuse, immediately contact a knowledgeable Colorado elder abuse lawyer who can discuss your situation and evaluate your case.