Broken Trust: Responding to Elder Financial Abuse

It’s been three years since Dottie’s husband passed away.  She took good care of him right up to the end.  That’s what people do when they’ve been married as long as Dottie and her husband.  She’s on her own now and lonely.  Bill always paid the bills and oversaw their retirement investments.  Now, it’s up to her to keep track of everything.

Dottie is at risk of being exploited and she probably already knows the individuals who may take advantage of her.  The annual financial loss by elder financial abuse is estimated to be $2.6 billion annually.  An individual doesn’t have to have a large net worth to be a target.

Here is who exploiters look for:

  • Homeowners….they are “home alone” leaving them exposed to scam artists
  • Lonely….sales and “scam” solicitations can fill a need for socially isolated seniors
  • Diminished reasoning and memory issues make older adults more vulnerable
  • Predictable patterns of payments (pensions, social security, investment income) make elders more at risk for financial abuse

The perpetrators are not strangers, they are people seniors trust.  The top three categories of perpetrators account for 46% of all reported elder financial abuse;

*  Trusted Professional   18%

*  Family Member            17%

*  Non-agency caregiver 11%

People who take advantage of seniors are friendly and persuasive.  They may start with small amounts of money and take more as time passes, if no one intervenes.  They often rationalize their behavior by claiming the senior wants them to have the money/asset, doesn’t need it anyway, or that the senior will “never miss it”.

Here are the ways seniors and their families can guard against financial abuse:

  •  Have a reliable power of attorney, favor family members who do not live with the senior
  •  Keep belongings neat; and list valuables (collectables, jewelry) in the household
  •  Report instances of financial abuse to police and bank Compliance Department
  •  Use an agency with an insured and bonded agency model that has employees as workers, not   private individuals who have no accountability to a formal employer
  •  Encourage direct deposits of checks
  • Have a safe and secure place where important documents are kept, such as POA’s, Wills

Seniors should talk to their family and make arrangements before severe illness or disability happens.  Unfortunately, many cases of financial abuse are not discovered until a senior has passed away and the family discovers money or valuables missing from the senior’s home or bank.  This is a difficult financial and emotional situation that can be avoided.

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Bobbie Mecalo, CAPM, BSBA., co-owner of Abby Senior Care, Inc. Bobbie may be reached at 303-699-8840 or by email at