How to protect your aging loved one from financial exploitation

Financial abuse of seniors is more common than you might think. Find out how you can help shield your loved one.

Ohio's elder law population has exploded in recent years. More and more seniors require intensive care, either in a facility or in their homes. Elders with physical, mental or emotional vulnerabilities face an increased risk of abuse and exploitation.

As a family member of an aging loved one, you can play an important role in both shielding your loved one from financial abuse and identifying abuse when it occurs.

What is financial elder abuse?

Financial exploitation can take many forms. You may have heard of large-scale mail and telephone scams - such as fake prize giveaways or charitable solicitations - that target vulnerable seniors. Yet in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators aren't strangers; instead, they're caregivers or family members who are close to the victim. What's more, financial abuse often takes place at home rather than in an institutional setting.

The abuser may use a range of methods to take advantage of your loved one's vulnerabilities - for example, employing deception, pressure or even threats to steal from the victim. In addition to committing outright theft and forgery, the abuser may influence the senior into showering him or her with gifts, loans and inheritances. The abuser may even end up with full access to bank accounts and other sensitive financial information.

The consequences of financial abuse extend far beyond just the monetary ramifications. Abuse also takes an emotional and psychological toll, costing the victim his or her dignity and independence.

Watch out for these warning signs

Seniors who become victims of abuse often don't recognize it. They may struggle with mental or emotional vulnerabilities that prevent them from seeing what's really going on. Often, they are entirely dependent on the abuser for their emotional and physical needs.

Even if the victim does have suspicions, because these situations often involve complex emotional and familial dynamics, the victim may feel reluctant to report the abuser and risk retaliation or loss of support.

It often falls to others in the family to identify red flags and take action. Warning signs of a potentially abusive situation include:

  • Abrupt changes in the senior's living situation or lifestyle
  • Revisions to the senior's will, power of attorney, titles or other legal documents
  • Unexplained withdrawals or unusual banking activity
  • Unnecessary spending for products or services the senior doesn't need
  • Unpaid bills
  • Missing items of property
  • Increasing isolation
  • Increasing dependence on the suspected perpetrator

When any of these warning signs are present, it's wise to take a closer look at the situation.

Take proactive measures to prevent abuse

As the family member of a vulnerable senior, you can take steps to prevent financial abuse before it happens by:

  • Carefully vetting any caregivers for substance abuse, financial problems, a history of domestic violence or a sense of entitlement, all of which can be hallmarks of an abuser
  • Meeting with a financial planner to discuss ways to safeguard your loved one's assets
  • Regularly monitoring your loved one's finances, bills and living situation
  • Keeping a close watch on your loved one's mental state and pursuing a court-appointed guardianship if he or she becomes incapacitated

Ohio law takes a strong stance against all forms of elder abuse, including financial exploitation. If you suspect that your loved one is a victim of abuse - or if you would like more specific guidance on how to prevent financial abuse - consult with the elder law attorneys at Mahaffey & Associates, LLC. Based in Toledo, Ohio, the firm provides compassionate and effective advocacy to protect seniors.