Warning signs of financial elder abuse


June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). In the United States alone, there are approximately 5 million cases of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation reported each year. Unfortunately, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, experts estimate that there may be over 20 times as many cases that go unreported.

Among the many forms of elder abuse, the most prevalent by far is financial elder abuse.

“Seniors face a unique set of risks, especially where financial abuse is concerned,” says MMI spokesperson and Vice President of Education and Community Relations Jo Kerstetter. “Many have accumulated wealth, but may lack the experience or knowledge necessary to confidently manage that wealth on their own, leading them to rely on others. This is especially true if they are a widower or widow who didn’t regularly manage the family finances before the loss of a spouse. Seniors are also more likely to have a disability or dependency that makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.”

Who is at risk?

According to the 2010 Investor Protection Trust Elder Fraud Survey, one in five Americans over 65 have been a victim of financial abuse. The issue is widespread and crosses numerous demographics, but there are a few factors that may place certain individuals at higher risk than others.

Per the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, a senior may be at greater risk if they:

  • Live primarily in isolation
  • Experience persistent loneliness
  • Recently lost a loved one
  • Suffer from physical or mental disabilities
  • Are uncomfortable or inexperienced with financial matters

Sadly, the majority of financial exploitation or fraud committed against the elderly is perpetrated by family members. Relatives who are unemployed, facing dire financial straits, or suffer from addiction have been known to prey on elderly family members.

Warning signs

Financial exploitation and abuse can take many forms, from using money and property without permission, to theft, to manipulation and coercion. Such crimes can be as simple as overcharging for goods to forging signatures on legal documents. Some of the more common signs that financial elder abuse has occurred may include:

  • Bank account withdrawals and charges the victim cannot explain
  • Unpaid/overdue bills, despite the victim seemingly having sufficient funds
  • Ongoing financial arrangements that the victim does not understand or recall agreeing to
  • Missing property
  • Potentially forged signatures on checks and other financial documents

If you suspect that you or someone you know has been the victim of financial elder abuse, don’t hesitate to contact your local police department. Additionally, you can use the ElderCare Locator at ElderCare.gov to find appropriate resources in your community.

“Ultimately, the first line of defense against financial fraud is education,” says Kerstetter. “The better equipped we are to manage our personal finances, the less reliant we become on advisors and caregivers who may or may not have our best interests at heart.”

MMI is proud to offer a variety of programs and services geared towards improving the financial wellness and stability of seniors. In addition to financial workshops, webinars, eBooks, and educational articles, MMI also offers reverse mortgage (or HECM) counseling.

Every day, an average of 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old. If you aren’t confident managing your money, there’s always time to learn. And if you need one-on-one assistance, we offer a wide range of financial counseling services to help take control of your money.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.