The incidence of financial abuse of seniors and the disabled is increasing significantly.

According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), “financial exploitation occurs when a person misuses or takes the assets of a vulnerable adult for his or her own personal benefit. This frequently occurs without the explicit knowledge or consent of the senior or disabled adult, depriving them of vital financial resources for their own needs.”

Assets are commonly taken via forms of deception, false pretenses, coercion, harassment, duress, intimidation and threats. Types of financial abuse most commonly encountered are:

  • Theft by family, friends, neighbors and caregivers – the most common form of financial abuse. Seventy-one percent of care managers nationwide reported this as a growing problem.
  • Investment-securities schemes through the mail, phone or email (“phishing”)
  • Home repair scams
  • Getting a senior to sign a deed, will or power of attorney through deception

According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), 1 in 20 older adults recently indicated some form of perceived financial mistreatment. Unfortunately, most financial abuse goes undetected, as only 1 in 44 cases are reported.

The top five red flags for seniors or their families to look for are:

  • Unusual activity on bank accounts and-or credit cards that can’t be explained
  • A new “best friend” who has appeared and is becoming heavily involved in personal activities
  • A friend, paid caregiver or trusted employee-vendor is isolating the senior from others
  • Another family member becomes secretive or defensive about parent’s finances
  • Belongings or property are missing

Financial abuse of the elderly is a major direct cost to taxpayers, as almost 1 in 10 financial abuse victims will turn to Medicaid as a direct result of their own monies being stolen from them.

According to the assistant district attorney in Savannah, even more alarming is that financial abuse is often the precursor of physical abuse when the senior no longer has any money and has become a burden. The abuser might withhold food, water, medications or medical care.

Banks are now being trained to spot, investigate and report suspicious activity. In addition to medical personnel, home care providers and police, among others, are also mandated reporters.

If abuse, neglect or exploitation is suspected, it should be reported to Adult Protective Services (APS) at 843-255-6103 and to the police who will investigate.

In some states, Georgia for example, financial and-or physical abuse carries a 20-year prison penalty if convicted.

So what can you do? Families, neighbors and friends should be observant and keep the senior’s best interest at heart. You can be the difference in the life of a senior who can’t or won’t ask for help for fear of retaliation.

Even if you just “have a feeling” that someone is being exploited, please report it. You might save that person’s life.

Rachel Carson, Certified Senior Advisor, is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care serving the Lowcountry since 1997.