Financial Elder Abuse: Protecting Your Loved Ones

Seniors lose more than $36 billion each year to financial abuse, a number that has been on the rise since 2013. For every victim that comes forward, 44 cases go unreported. Large numbers of Baby Boomers are aging into retirement and there is a good chance that you know someone who has been or will become a victim of financial exploitation. Sadly, the elder may not even know it’s happening or is embarrassed to come forward. By learning about financial elder abuse you can help spot the signs and protect your loved ones against its damage.

What is it?

Financial Elder Abuse occurs when a person misuses or takes the assets of a vulnerable adult for their own personal benefit. It can be committed by people they know like family members or caregivers, or people they don’t know, such as scammers, and can happen in many ways. The exploitation takes forms of deception, false pretenses, coercion, harassment, duress and threats; ranging from investment scams, lottery schemes, stolen property, identity theft, credit card misuse and forged checks.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers…

  • People over 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth
  • Nearly 58% of financial abuse occurs from a family member – reports show that the average loss per person was about $50,000 when the older adult knew the suspect and $17,000 when the suspect was a stranger.
  • The average amount lost was $34,200
  • Adults ages 70 – 79 had the highest average loss of $45,300
  • One third of the individuals who lost money were ages 80 and older
  • 74% of incidents are not being report to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services

Unlike a young adult, when a senior loses their life savings, they don’t have years to recoup their losses. For seniors with limited assets and income, the impact of financial fraud can be devasting and affect their independence.

Knowing the Characteristics and Signs

While anyone can be a victim, seniors can be especially vulnerable. The following characteristics can put an elderly individual at a higher risk of experiencing financial abuse:

  • They may be lonely
  • They may be isolated
  • They may have mental or physical disabilities
  • They have experienced recent losses
  • They lack an understanding of financial matters
  • They have a trusting nature
  • They have family members who are unemployed and/or are substance abusers

There are signs you can look for if you suspect that financial abuse of an elderly loved one has occurred. Here are some common behaviors to watch out for:

  • Termination of utilities such as telephone, water, electricity or gas
  • Unpaid bills and liabilities despite adequate income or sudden non-sufficient fund activity
  • Oversight of finances surrendered to others without explanation or consent
  • Transferring assets to new “friends” assisting with finances
  • Checks written to “Cash” or for gifts
  • ATM withdrawals they couldn’t have made
  • Not understanding current finances and have unlikely explanations when asked
  • Cash, valuable objects, and financial statements have gone missing
  • Inexplicable or unauthorized changes to wills or other estate documents
  • Giving away money or spending in uncommon ways
  • Appearance of property liens or foreclosure notices
  • Sudden changes in powers of attorney or individuals making financial transactions on their behalf

This article from the American Bankers Association has helpful tips for seniors to protect themselves and for family and friends to spot the warning signs. The effects of financial abuse can be extremely negative to the victim. Pay attention to drastic changes in your loved one’s mood or behavior and take action.

What should you do if you’re a victim or suspect financial abuse?

It’s important to be proactive and take steps to safeguard yourself or a loved one. If you suspect financial abuse you can contact Adult Protective Services, local law enforcement, or the financial institution that holds the victims accounts.

There are many ways to protect against financial elder abuse if you’re aware of the signs. Start by having a discussion with your loved ones about the dangers and potential threats. By understanding their financial situation, it will be easier to notice the signs.


Outagamie County Health and Human Services Department

(920) 832-4646

Fox Valley Metro Police Department

(920) 788-7505

BLC Community Bank

(920) 788-4141