Unlike strangers, relatives, caregivers, and others with fiduciary responsibilities, hold a position of trust and have an ongoing relationship with the vulnerable adult. Financial exploitation occurs when the offender steals, withholds or otherwise misuses the victim’s money or assets for personal profit.
Perpetrators take advantage of the victim and rationalize their actions in various ways. For example, perpetrators may feel that they are entitled to receiving their inheritance early and do not view their actions as wrong, while others simply take advantage of the victim. The tactics used by these offenders may include intimidation, deceit, coercion, emotional manipulation, psychological or physical abuse and/or empty promises. The offender may try to isolate the victim from friends, family and other concerned parties who would act in the victim’s best interest. By doing so, the perpetrator prevents others from asking about the person’s well-being or relationship with the offender and prevents the person from consulting with others on important financial decisions.
Methods can include:
- Theft of the victim’s money or other cash-equivalent assets (e.g., stocks, bonds, savings bonds, travelers checks), both directly and through establishing joint accounts or signatory authority on existing accounts. Perpetrators may convince the elder to add them to the account as an authorized user without the elder understanding that the perpetrator can withdraw funds without their knowledge.
- Borrowing money (sometimes repeatedly) with no intent to repay.
- Cashing or keeping some portion of the person’s pension, Social Security or other income checks without permission.
- Using the victim’s checks or ATM, debit or credit cards without permission.
- Transferring title on, or re-encumbering, real property of the vulnerable adult. Financial exploitation utilizing real property is particularly appealing to family members or caregivers who may feel they are “owed” something for their efforts, however meager those efforts may be in reality. For many vulnerable adults, their most significant economic asset may be the equity they have built in their real property over decades of ownership. See also foreclosure rescue scam.
- Opening or adding their name to banking accounts without the elder’s permission. Often, a fraudster may use the victim’s personal information to open an account online, as opposed to opening an account at a branch location. The fraudster often opts to receive online statements to avoid having statements sent to the victim’s address and elude detection.