According to the U.S. Department of Justice, financial exploitation of the elderly is one of the most frequently reported forms of elder abuse. According to U.S. Census projections, by 2030 people aged 65 and older will constitute 20% of the total U.S. population. Persons age 85 years and older rank as one of the fastest-growing populations in the country.

With advanced age and increased dependence on others, seniors are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation.

What Is Elder Financial Abuse?

The Federal Elder Justice Act defines financial exploitation of the elderly as “the fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized, or improper act . . . that uses the resources of an elder for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, or that results in depriving an elder the rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings, or assets.”

Increased dependence on others, coupled with the fact that older adults tend to have more financial assets, make the elderly particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation. This is especially true where an elderly individual suffers from dementia or some other mental incapacity that lessens their ability to make sound financial decisions.

Financial exploitation can take many forms, including scams by telemarketers, forgery, identity theft, or the use of undue influence to pressure an older adult to transfer his or her assets. Most elder financial abuse takes place in domestic settings instead of long-term care facilities and is normally caused by family members. This can be done through promises of lifelong care or undue pressure put on the senior.

Signs of elder financial abuse may include:

  • Diminished health or mental capacity of the elder
  • Growing interest in the individual’s assets, including his/her financial accounts and real property
  • Unusual bank account activity
  • Financial transactions that the elder has difficulty explaining
  • History of substance abuse, gambling, or financial problems in the family
  • Disputes regarding future inheritance
  • Efforts to make the victim amend his/her estate planning documents, including Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and/or Last Will and Testament

What to Do if You Suspect Elder Financial Abuse

If you suspect elder financial abuse or exploitation, contact your local Adult Protective Services agency.

  • Erie County, NY: (716) 858-8526
  • Niagara County, NY: (716) 278-8621.

The Department of Justice also has a Victim Connect Hotline at 1-855-484-2846.

In addition, if the victim has an attorney, particularly an estate planning attorney, that attorney should be advised of any suspected financial abuse, especially where an individual may be pressured to revise his/her estate planning documents.

If you have any questions about the above material or wish to speak to an attorney, please contact us at (716) 204-1055.

Pfalzgraf, Beinhauer & Menzies, LLP is located at 455 Cayuga Road, Suite 600, Buffalo, NY 14225.

Elder Abuse, Financial Abuse