Updated June 4, 2024

Elder Financial Abuse

Financial fraud is a particularly devious form of elder abuse, to both the victim’s bank account and psychological well-being. According to the Department of Justice, over 10% of older Americans fall victim to financial fraud each year.

However, only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported. Why is that? It could be due to confusion or memory loss, or it could just be that they do not notice the fraudulent charge. Often, it’s caused by embarrassment, not wanting to get someone in trouble or the fear that reporting the fraud will lead to reduced independence. Unfortunately, seniors with cognitive incapacity suffer the most economic loss.

If you see something, say something. To spot financial abuse of elders, keep an eye out for sudden changes in their financial situation, such as:
  1. They’re being coached Out of the blue, a grandchild or new caregiver is going to the bank with them or speaking on their behalf. A recent trend is to coach seniors not to be truthful when asked about large cash withdrawals or wire activity. Trust your intuition.
  2. Impossible financial activity – A statement reveals ATM withdrawals or other large purchases, but the account holder hasn't left home and doesn't use a computer. 
  3. Significant withdrawals, unusual purchases or large wire transfers – You notice credit card charges, large cash withdrawals or transfers that are out of character.
  4. Missing jewelry – A broach they always wear to church, a necklace habitually worn during the holidays or a ring they haven’t taken off in years is suddenly gone.
  5. Unpaid bills – When visiting a neighbor, you see mail piling up on the desk. Maybe the financial caregiver is using the money for something other than paying bills?
There are, however, some things that you can do now for yourself or a loved one:
  • Review the controls you have in place to secure your physical documents and online activity.
  • Remind people NEVER to give anyone remote access to their computer, or their online banking credentials.
  • Empower yourself: stay current by visiting Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and AARP websites. You can also check out the ABA Foundation’s video series on safe banking for seniors and financial caregivers.
  • Finally, protect your credit by signing up for a security freeze lock and checking your credit report at least annually. It's free to do both!

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