Financial Fundamentals Blog

What is elder financial abuse and how to prevent it

Elderly couple sitting on the couch reviewing their finances


What is Elder Financial Abuse?
Elder financial abuse is a crime that deprives older adults of their resources and ultimately their independence. Acts of possible exploitation include: theft, fraud, misuse of a person’s assets or credit or use of undue influence to gain control of an older individual’s money or property.

 While daunting, older individuals and their families can take simple steps to safeguard their personal information and protect themselves from financial abuse.

 Tips for Seniors
What should you do to protect yourself?

  • Plan ahead to protect your assets and ensure your wishes are followed. Talk to a financial advisor or attorney to discuss your best options.
  • Shred receipts, bank statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
  • Choose a trustworthy person to act as your agent in all estate-planning matters.
  • Lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.
  • Never give out personal information, including your Social Security Number, account numbers or other financial information to anymore over the phone unless you initiate the call and the other party is trusted.
  • Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery winnings.
  • Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and get a second option.
  • Build a relationship with your financial institution and those who handle your money. They can help look out for any suspicious activity related to your account.
  • Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.

 Tips for Family and Friends
What are the warning signs of financial abuse?
 The key to spotting financial abuse is to spot a change in a person’s established financial patterns. Here are some red flags:

  • Unusual activity in an older person’s financial accounts, including large, frequent or unexplained withdrawals.
  • ATM withdrawals by an older person who has never used a debit or ATM card.
  • Changing from a basic account to one that offers more complicated services the customer does not fully understand or need.
  • Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts the customer cannot explain.
  • Sudden nonsufficient fund activity or unpaid bills.
  • Closing certificates or accounts without regard to penalties.
  • Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money.
  • Suspicious signatures on checks or outright forgery.
  • Confusion, fear or lack of awareness on the part of an older member.
  • Refusal to make eye contact, shame or reluctance to talk about the problem.
  • Checks written as loans or gifts.
  • Bank statements that no longer go to the member’s home.
  • New power of attorney the older person does not understand.
  • A caretaker, relative or friend who suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of an older person without proper documentation.
  • Altered wills and trusts.
  • Loss of property.

 What should you do if you suspect financial abuse?

  • Talk to elderly friends or loved ones if you see any of the signs mentioned here. Try to determine what specifically is happening with their financial situation, such as a new person helping them with money management, or a relative using cards or credit without their permission.
  • Report the elder financial abuse to their financial institution.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services in your area for help.
  • Report all instances of elder financial abuse to your local police. 

Additional Resources:
7 17 Credit Union members can learn more about the topic by visiting KOFE,