August 29, 2012

Elder Financial Exploitation: Theft By Family Members

by Levin & Perconti

Nursing home neglect and abuse is one of the most common forms of exploitation of elderly community members. Yet, according to a new study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, the actual form of abuse that occurs with more frequency than anything else is unauthorized use of senior funds by family members. Considering the amount of assets taken by relatives, it is important for local residents to understand the problem and the ways to prevent this abuse. Our Chicago elder abuse attorneys appreciate, however, that tackling this problem is easier said than done. That is because relatives are usually the ones who actually protect seniors. It is difficult to address the issue without that oversight.

The Problem
Senior financial exploitation caused by family members can vary in scope--from small sums taken to entire life savings stripped away. For example, one former law enforcement officer who now trains others to tackle this abuse notes that over the years he has “seen as much as three-quarters of a million dollars that disappeared over 18 months. The money, or control of a house, its all just stripped away.”

Federal, state, and local officials have been devoting more and more resources to this problem. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that $5.5 million will be distributed for elder abuse prevention efforts. Similarly, the Elder Justice Coordinating Council also launched an effort to prevent this abuse--include work on financial matters with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Two main themes are common in the cases: (1) A family member with their own problems, and (2) Seniors with cognitive health issues. More often than not the family members who engage in theft have mental health issues, substance abuse problems, or both. Individuals who seem financially dependent on their elder relatives are more likely to engage in theft. In addition, seniors who have cognitive challenges--like dementia or Alzheimer’s--are most at risk.

Prevention Tips
A recent story from the Fiscal Times discussed this problem and listed a few red flags to help identify the problem. Our Chicago elder abuse lawyers urge all seniors (and their loved ones) to take note of these basic tips to prevent financial exploitation before it expands. In many ways the key is to identify possible theft early on, before the wrongdoer gains a foothold and takes more and more. Some of those identification signs include...

***Sudden isolation: For both well-being and safety reasons, it is never a good idea for a senior to be isolated from others. That is particularly true when they interact with only one or two individuals.

***Change in Financial Control: Obviously, a sudden or unexpected change in financial control might indicate exploitation. All those with control over a senior’s finances should be scrutinized reasonably.

***Secrets: Secrecy is at the heart of this problem. Scammers usually try to keep things secret and seniors often fail to mention possible problems, either because of confusion, shame, or both. All suspicions about a senior keeping issues quiet should be investigated to ensure they do not relate to some form of abuse or exploitation.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

New Financial Scams Targeting Seniors

Elder Abuse Prevention Laws Strengthened