Beware of elder financial abuse


Keep an eye out on the pervasiveness of elder financial abuse and the toll it takes on our seniors. We all need to be aware of the red flags of financial scams, exploitation, and caregiver abuse, thus empowering seniors to take self-protective action.

Elder financial abuse includes identity theft, draining of an elder’s assets via telephone, Internet or mail scams as well as a caregiver’s appropriation of an elder’s assets for personal gain, contrary to that person’s needs and/or wishes. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports:

  • Family members are the most common perpetrators of financial exploitation of older adults (57.9 percent), followed by friends and neighbors (16.9 percent), and then by home care aides (14.9 percent). (Financial Exploitation of Older Adults: A Population-Based Prevalence Study. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2014)
  • Caregiver financial abuse costs seniors $7 billion a year (True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse, 2015)
  • A New York study found that major financial exploitation was self-reported at a rate of 41 per 1,000 surveyed, which was higher than self-reported rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect. (Under the Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, 2011)

BBB offers these tips to help prevent elder financial abuse: Make sure you have more than one trusted person in your financial corner. Plan ahead to protect assets and ensure your wishes are followed. Consult with a licensed financial planner or attorney before signing complex agreements. Build relationships with professionals involved in your finances who can assist in monitoring for suspicious activity. Limit your use of cash (using checks and credit cards leaves a paper trail).

BBB’s ongoing senior outreach programs are offered throughout Minnesota and North Dakota, educating seniors how to identify, avoid and report financial abuse and giving them tools to avoid the risk of exploitation. Better Business Bureau has partnered with Allianz to create Safeguarding Our Seniors, a unique volunteer program which sends trained volunteers to community and senior organizations to inform and encourage discussion on the topic of elder financial abuse. Senior centers, organizations and groups can contact Gary Johnson, BBB Senior Program Manager, at 651-695-2424 for further info on programs we offer for seniors or to schedule a presentation.

People who have experienced or suspect elder financial abuse can report the matter to Minnesota Attorney General at 651-296-3353, the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office at 701-328-3404 and their local law enforcement agency.