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Financial Exploitation of Seniors

One of the most common and most reported types of elder abuse is financial exploitation. Financial exploitation of the elderly occurs when a person uses or takes the money, property, or assets of an elderly person in an improper or illegal way. Most types of financial exploitation involve coercion, intimidation, or deception in order to get access to an elder’s finances. Though financial exploitation is a serious crime that governments across the country are working to prevent, it still happens every day to thousands of people.

Different Types of Financial Exploitation

Unfortunately for senior citizens, there are many different ways that they can be exploited and tricked financially. The perpetrators of financial exploitation could be nearly anyone who has access to the elderly person and their finances. In most cases, financial exploitation is committed by family members, but it can also be committed by friends, physicians, caregivers, lawyers, and business people. The most common types of financial exploitation are:

  • Fraud
  • Embezzlement or theft
  • Use of funds without knowledge or permission
  • Coerced transfers of property and assets
  • Improper use of power of attorney
  • Internet and telemarketing scams
  • Exploitation of investments
  • Forgery of signature
  • Deceiving or forcing the changing of wills, deeds, and power of attorney
  • Home repair and contractor scams

Indicators of Financial Exploitation

If you believe someone you know is a victim of financial exploitation, there are ways that you can check and determine what is going on. By asking them simple questions about their finances, you may be able to determine if someone is exploiting them. If they tell you about new investments that will bring high yields or new friends who are helping them manage their money, you should be concerned. If they are suddenly unable to pay utilities or afford basic services, it might mean that their finances have been taken or controlled by someone else. Here are some other signs of financial exploitation:

  • Unexplained withdrawal of large sums or excessive withdrawals of small sums
  • Changes to wills, deeds, and power of attorney
  • Disappearance of large funds or assets
  • Confusion over ownership of assets and property
  • Unpaid bills, eviction notices, and inability to afford medical care
  • Sudden changes in savings or investments

Risk Factors for Financial Exploitation

There are certain characteristics that increase the risk of an elderly person being targeted and exploited financially. Like other forms of abuse, the potential abusers will usually target people they believe are more vulnerable or easy to confuse. Because the elderly are more likely to be frail and suffering from cognitive decline, they are seen as easy targets by scam artists and sometimes even by abusive family members.

Research has shown that one of the biggest risk factors is physical health and independence. If an elderly person is ill or physically unable to take care of themselves, they are more likely to be exploited. This is also true of individuals who suffer from dementia and other cognitive disorders that make it easier to confuse them.

These individuals are at greater risk because they are dependent on a caregiver to take care of them and that caregiver is in a position where they can take advantage of the relationship. In these situations the elderly may also be afraid to refuse a caregiver’s demands or report the caregiver because they are dependent on the caregiver and fear retaliation. Not only are these types of individuals at greater risk for financial exploitation, but the financial exploitation of these individuals is usually more severe than other cases.

Other Risk Factors for Financial Exploitation:

  • Isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Disability
  • Lack of familiarity with finance issues
  • Family members are unemployed or substance abusers


“Elder Financial Exploitation.” National Adult Protective Services Association. National Adult Protective Services Association, n.d. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.napsa-now.org/policy-advocacy/world-elder-abuse-awareness-day/>.

“Financial Exploitation of the Elderly.” National Institute of Justice. Department of Justice, 05 Jan 2011. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://nij.gov/topics/crime/elder-abuse/Pages/financial-exploitation.asp&xgt;.

Price, Thomas, Patricia King, et al. “Elder Financial Exploitation: Implications for Future Policy and Research in Elder Mistreatment.” Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. 12(3).July (2011): 354-356. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3117613/>.



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