October 05, 2022 · Budget, Retirement, Savings, Security

Protecting Aging Adults from Financial Abuse

This blog post is excerpted and adapted from one of the many free Delta Community Financial Education Center live workshops, Protecting Aging Adults from Financial Abuse, which is being presented this month and is available to both Credit Union members and the general public. Please visit the Financial Education Center's Events & Seminars page to register for its monthly, no-cost webinars with pragmatic, actionable advice on managing personal finances and learning how to avoid different types of scams and online attacks. The work of the national award-winning Financial Education Center reflects Delta Community’s mission to help both its members and others in the community achieve financial success.

Please consider attending the Financial Education Center workshop related to this post, which focuses on the state of Georgia’s elder abuse laws and dives much deeper into the very important topic of protecting older family members—such as an “at risk” parent, grandparent, or other family—and friends from financial exploitation and abuse. Financial abuse can include having an elder’s income and assets illegally controlled and stolen by someone they know and may trust, such as a child or grandchild. The workshop (and this post) also explore the signs of financial exploitation and how to address it.

What is elder abuse?

Under state of Georgia laws, there are protections for persons 65 years of age or older and disabled adults ages 18 and older who are mentally or physically incapacitated or who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and residents of long-term care facilities. The state defines exploitation as “Taking away property or money by undue influence, force, threat or deceit; misuse of financial resources for another's gain; taking a Social Security check without consent; having a power of attorney document or other documents signed without the victim knowing what he or she is signing; forging a signature; offering a “prize” that the victim has won but must pay money to claim; or eliciting support for phony charities.”

As with a number of other types of crimes, elder exploitation may be underreported to law enforcement and regulatory agencies. Elder exploitation may not be discovered because victims are embarrassed about having allowed themselves to be swindled, reluctant (and, possibly, scared) to point the finger at the perpetrators, or may be too mentally confused to understand what is being done to them.

Here are just some indications of possible abuse to look out for—behavioral, physical, financial

Being aware of an elder’s lifestyle is the first step in determining if they may be a victim of abuse. There may be many small and large symptoms of potential elder financial abuse, and it’s important to stay current on a family members’ (or friends’) behavior, their living environment, and, if you can, how their financial accounts are set up and their cash flow and bill paying activities. Some possible clues to potential elder financial exploitation include the following; note that it is only a partial list of what to look out for and look into.

Look out for these behaviors and situations:

  • Verbal arguments and disagreements with family members or caregivers over money
  • Financial conversations controlled by the family or caregiver and the senior appears to be frightened and is reluctant to participate in these discussions
  • Pay attention to the length and intensity of a new friend or partner relationship to try to ensure that your family members or friends don’t fall victim to financial abuse, including romance scams.
  • The elder adult refuses to seek medical treatment or take medications and seems embarrassed about the situation
  • Lack of available food in the home when the elder can afford groceries
  • Unkempt or physically deteriorating living conditions when money should be available for home upkeep
  • Checkbook registers, or financial account statements showing that money is going to someone unknown to the family
  • Late bill payment clues—mail or emails appearing that claim that payments are overdue and phone calls from bill collectors

Questions to ask about activities and actions:

  • Did the “at risk” adult give anyone personal account information such as online banking credentials? Did they wire transfer funds or send this individual money via a digital payment app?
  • Try to determine how much money the elder gave to this person, and was it a one-time or series of payments?
  • Was the amount of money reasonable for the purpose it was given—a gift, loan, purchase, repayment or payment?
  • Does this family member or friend seem to be afraid that someone is taking money from them?
  • Has the elder attempted to pay anyone using gift cards or cryptocurrency?
  • Are there any indications that the family member or friend is being forced to do things they do not want to do?

How can you address potential or actual elder financial abuse?

Being active in an elder’s life and knowing their circumstances provides the opportunity to help them if they may be experiencing financial abuse, either from a family member, friend or a scammer. Here are some actions that could help manage elder financial abuse:

  • Stay connected with elderly family and friends
  • Make regular visits to “at risk” loved ones or call to check on them and express interest and concern for their welfare, including their financial status
  • Ask the elder if they need any assistance with their finances
  • Consult with the family member or friend before they make a large purchase, payment withdrawal, investment or change in their accounts
  • Ask detailed questions about any of the elder’s new friends or partners
  • Have professional background checks conducted on anyone you hire for personal assistance services
  • Ask screening questions of the elder that could reveal financial abuse by focusing on consistent cash flow, problems with bills, or unusual expenses or payments, including those made with gift cards or cryptocurrency
  • Give the elder person’s neighbors and friends your email address and phone numbers for emergencies
  • If you have strong concerns or evidence of elder physical, mental or financial abuse, then contact Adult Protective Services (APS), the state of Georgia government agency charged with investigating all reports of abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation of older persons (65+) or an adult (18+) with a disability who do not reside in long-term care facilities. Physicians and other hospital or medical personnel (such as social workers) are considered by the state to be “mandated reporters” and are required by Georgia law to report when they suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation. Georgia encourages all other parties to make reports if they believe that a disabled adult or elder person needs protective services or has been the victim of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Others states have agencies with a similar title.

Looking for more information on managing finances or avoiding scams?

Providing financial guidance is an important privilege for Delta Community, and it’s a big part of the Credit Union’s mission to help members achieve their financial goals and succeed financially. For anyone interested in information on protecting accounts or financial guidance, check out the free Delta Community Financial Education Center webinars on a range of money-related topics. You can visit the Financial Education Center's Events & Seminars page to register for its no-cost, on-demand webinars.

The Credit Union’s blog also has more information that could be interesting and useful:

Good BALANCE is always helpful

Another resource for good information is BALANCE™. BALANCE™ is a financial education and counseling organization that offers free services to Delta Community members. Some of its services include credit report reviews, debt management, and information on budgeting, money management and home buying.

Visit the BALANCE™ website to learn about their education and assistance programs. Members can also speak with certified credit and housing counselors to get personalized guidance.

Want to connect with a Financial Coach about your specific situation? Chat online, e-mail, or call 1-888-456-2227 to speak with a Financial Coach today.

Note that the services offered through BALANCE™ are separate and distinct from any business conducted with Delta Community and are not guaranteed by, nor are they obligations of, the Credit Union.