Comprehensive Elder Law Services

Financial Exploitation


In this plugged-in world we live in, we are constantly reminded of the perils of identity theft and financial exploitation. But what we often forget is that you don’t have to be on-line and plugged in to become a victim. Many older adults are at risk to be victims of financial exploitation, sometimes because they have dementia, and sometimes because they just can’t say no to seemingly harmless, helpful people.

Baylor College of Medicine has developed a Financial Concerns Checklist, and while it was probably meant to be used by doctors and other professionals, I think it can be helpful for friends and family to identify possible problems. Here are some of the statements from the checklist:

  • I have trouble paying bills because the bills are confusing to me.
  • I don’t feel confident making big financial decisions alone.
  • I don’t understand financial decisions that someone else is making for me.
  • I give loans or gifts more than I can afford.
  • My children or others are pressuring me to give them money.
  • People are calling me or mailing me asking for money, lotteries.
  • Someone is accessing my accounts or money seems to be disappearing.

Here are some other items on the checklist that indicate possible concerns:

  • Social isolation
  • Bereavement
  • Dependence on another to provide care
  • Financially responsible for adult child or spouse
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Depression or mental illness

Unfortunately, there may be no easy way to intervene in a situation where financial exploitation is suspected. If the older adult has dementia and they have previously appointed someone to act as power of attorney, then this is the time for the power of attorney to step in and take control of the finances. In some instances, however, it may be the family or power of attorney who is doing the exploiting. A referral to Adult Protective Services can be made, but it can be really hard to prove that the older person did not willingly give money away, especially to a family member. If the exploitation seems to be coming from non-family members, something like a money management program, like the one provided by Guardianship Services, might be an option. If all else fails, then guardianship may be necessary.