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Preventing financial exploitation

Preventing financial exploitation

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Financial exploitation is the illegal or improper use of another individual’s resources for personal profit or gain.  Also referred to as “fiduciary abuse”, “financial abuse”, “economic abuse” and “financial mistreatment.” 

Examples include:

  • Misappropriation of income or assets - The perpetrator obtains access to an older adult’s social security payments, pension payments, checking or savings account, online banking account, credit, ATM or debit card, or withholds portions of checks cashed for an older adult. 
  • Charging excessive rent or fees for services - The perpetrator charges an older adult excessive rent or unreasonable fees for basic care services such as transportation, food or medicine.
  • Obtaining money or property by undue influence, misrepresentation, or fraud - The perpetrator coerces an older adult into signing over investments, real estate or other assets through the use of manipulation, intimidation or threats.
  • Improper or fraudulent use of the power of attorney or fiduciary authority - The perpetrator improperly or fraudulently uses the power of attorney or fiduciary authority to alter an older adult’s will, to borrow money using an older adult’s name, or to dispose of an older adult’s assets or income.
  • Keeping extra money - Paid caregivers keep the change from the groceries.
  • Card theft - Using credit, debit, or ATM cards without permission or knowledge.
  • Financial theft - Draining bank accounts without the knowledge or informed consent.
  • Property theft - Wrongfully taking property such as cars, homes, land, or jewelry.
  • Medical theft - Stealing medications. 
  • Mail theft - Stealing mail.
  • Misappropriation of assets - Wrongfully taking the assets, funds, or property belonging to or intended for the use of an elderly person or person with a disability.
  • Making threats - Alarming an elderly person or a person with a disability by conveying a threat to wrongfully take or appropriate money or property of the person if the person would reasonably believe that the threat conveyed would be carried out.
  • Unauthorized use of funds - Misappropriating, misusing, or transferring without authorization any money from any account held jointly or singly by an elderly person or a person with a disability.
  • Negligence - Failing to use the income or assets of an elderly person or a person with a disability effectively for the support and maintenance of the person.

Who might help with information or hands-on assistance:

  • Family.
  • Friends, neighbors, and volunteers.
  • Health care provider.
  • Attorneys, including the Senior Law Project. 
  • Law enforcement.
  • Department of Justice/Medicaid Fraud.
  • Financial institutions.
  • Non-profit agencies.
  • The media: newspaper articles and radio talk shows, for example.
  • Government agencies (Victims Assistance and Social Security, for example).
  • Senior centers.
  • Case managers.
  • AARP.
  • Community/senior advocacy groups.

Good financial practice advice:

  • Review your bank statements in a timely matter.
  • Use direct deposit for your checks if possible.
  • Do not leave money or valuables in plain view.
  • Sign your own checks. Do not sign “blank checks” where another person can fill in the amount or the recipient's name. If you need someone to help you write out checks before you sign, ask a third party to review the check and take it to the bank.
  • If someone is helping you with managing your finances, get a trusted third person to review your bank statement.
  • Do not sign any document without reading it carefully.
  • Do not sign any agreement until a trusted friend, other advisor or an attorney has reviewed it. If possible, have two advisers review the agreement.
  • Do not lend money in return for a general promissory note.
  • Do not sign over money or property to anyone in return for care, even a family member or friend, without having the agreement reviewed by an attorney. The agreement must be written. Give someone else a copy.
  • Safeguard your ATM, debit, and credit cards. Notify your bank immediately if one is missing. 
  • Do not give out card information over the telephone unless it is to someone with whom you regularly do business.
  • Do not allow anyone, even a relative, to put his or her name on your account without your express consent. Your bank can set instead up a separate account in both names with automatic transfer of limited funds.
  • Obtain and review your credit report on an annual basis. A free credit report can be obtained annually online at or by calling 877-322-8228 and completing a verification process.

Planning ahead

  • Establish relationships with personnel at your bank.
  • Cultivate friendships with people of all ages so you maintain a strong support network.
  • Become familiar with resources in the community designed to help older adults and their families.
  • Execute a power of attorney that will grant financial decision-making power to a trusted friend, relative, or attorney. Know the person to whom you are granting this authority. A power of attorney can be as limited or as broadly needed as you wish and can be revoked at any time. The specific “powers” given to this person should be detailed in writing. Give your bank a copy.
  • Consider a durable power of attorney that will remain in effect even if you become incapacitated.
  • Consider a trust, a legal arrangement where a person or financial institution manages assets for you.
  • Put all financial instructions in writing. Be specific.
  • Keep accurate and complete financial records.
  • Gather all important documents together (wills, insurance policies, and bank account information). Tell someone you trust where these documents are kept.
  • Consider having a health representative (medical power of attorney) and advanced directives so your wishes will be respected should you become incapacitated and need placement or medical treatment.

Personal safety

  • Be aware of the risks of living with a person who is a substance abuser or has a history of violence.
  • Have a plan to keep yourself safe, and explore different housing options available to you.
  • Keep in touch with your friends.
  • Keep control of your own phone.
  • Open and post your own mail.
  • If you or someone you know is 65 or older or a person with disabilities and is a victim of abuse, call your local Adult Protective Services program.
  • Local domestic violence organizations provide help lines, shelter, and advocacy. They serve all ages and both females and males. 

Types of abuse 

  • Self-neglect – Failure by oneself to provide goods or services essential to avoid a serious threat to one’s physical or mental health.
  • Neglect – Failure to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder. Neglect can be willful/intentional (e.g., deliberately withholding food or medicine) or unintentional (e.g., untrained or “burnt out” caregiver).
  • Physical abuse – Infliction of physical pain, injury, etc.
  • Sexual abuse – Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with a vulnerable adult. 
  • Abandonment – Desertion of a vulnerable adult by an individual who has assumed responsibility for providing care.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse – Infliction of mental anguish by demeaning name calling, threatening, isolating, etc.
  • Financial or material exploitation – Illegal or unethical exploitation by using funds, property, or other assets of a vulnerable adult for personal gain irrespective of detriment to the vulnerable adult.

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