The signs and symptoms of senior financial abuse

Eileen Beal | 3/13/2013, 8:41 a.m.

According to Page Ulrey of Seattle’s King County Prosecutor’s Office, “Those who are being abused are often dependent on their abuser for their care and don’t want to [take them to court] because of the repercussions it would cause. Or they fear they will be sent to a nursing home. Or they fear — or love — the offender.”

Frequently, too, she said, “They are ashamed to admit that they have been taken advantage of.”

Ulrey stressed that it is often difficult to prosecute exploiters. That’s not only because of the reasons mentioned above, but also because the victim has died or is so cognitively impaired he or she cannot testify. To keep a vulnerable relative or loved one out of harm’s way, concerned friends or family members must be proactive. The earlier deterrents and roadblocks are set in place, the better, she said.

One time-tested strategy for keeping financial abusers at bay, Ulrey said, is for an elder’s friends and family members to stay connected. “Financial abuse and exploitation occurs in the shadows, where people are isolated from those who could spot the signs that something isn’t right,” she said.

Stevic-Rust emphasized that it’s important to become hyper-vigilant in observing a vulnerable senior’s physical health and cognitive state. “Declines in both can make them vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation,” she explained.

Those assisting the at-risk person should help him or her get information about exploitative situations, schemes or scams they may encounter and to become better educated about their finances.

It would also be valuable to help the senior consult with legal or financial professionals who can draw up such documents as trusts, limited powers of attorney or conservatorships. “These can, and for the most part do, deter financial exploiters,” Ulrey said.

If you suspect someone is being financially abused, it is important to report your concerns to local authorities. The National Adult Protective Services Association’s website (www.napsa-now.org) lists adult protective services departments in every state.

“This site doesn’t just have the telephone numbers for reporting financial abuse, they take anonymous tips too,” said Executive Director Kathleen Quinn.

If all else fails, you may be able to file for a protection order. “This will limit the contact the abuser has with their victim — and perhaps protect assets, too,” Ulrey said.

Eileen Beal, a Cleveland-based writer on issues in aging, wrote this article for “Today’s Caregiver Magazine” with the support of a MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellows program, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.