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Financial Abuse: Could You Spot It?

By Eileen Beal, MA

(Page 1 of 4)

Despite the hit their savings and investments took during the “Great Recession,” Americans between 70 and 90 are still the wealthiest group in the US.  Not surprisingly, they are also prime targets for financial exploitation and abuse.  “It’s all their assets – a mortgage-free home, steady income from Social Security or a pension, investments – that make them a target,” says attorney Page Ulrey, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney for the King County Prosecutor’s Office in Washington.

According to experts “prime” targets are:

  • Women, most often between ages 80 and 89

  • Men who have recently lost a spouse or partner

  • Living alone and may require some help with either health care or home maintenance

  • Lonely and vulnerable

  • Especially at risk during the holidays

In addition, financial exploiters target those with diminished mental capacity and decision making ability, says Lori Stevic-Rust, PhD, Director of Senior Services at Lake Health System, in northeast Ohio.  A nationally-recognized psychologist, she is often called in to evaluate the capacity and competency of at-risk seniors.

“They target them,” she adds, “because their ability to pay attention, process information, analyze situations, or figure out what the long-term consequences will be for a given action is significantly impaired…Even when they know the day and year and can perform simple activities in the home – prepare a meal for instance – they aren’t able to make important decisions or judgments or carry out complicated activities that involve many steps.”

It’s a MOM thing

The majority of exploiters and abusers are strangers: telemarketing scammers after credit card or Social Security numbers, paid caregivers, or “sweethearts,” con artists who prey on lonely elders.  After that, it’s friends, neighbors or family members – most often a son or son-in-law.  Then it’s unscrupulous professionals – accountants, financial planners, bankers, lawyers, physicians, contractors, etc. Many have histories of drug or alcohol abuse and/or have gambling or other financial problems.

Those fighting financial exploitation and abuse say it’s all about:

  • Motive:  Most of the time exploiters and abusers are after assets: money, jewelry, property. But sometimes greed or sibling rivalry are motives, too.

  • Opportunity:  Most exploiters and abusers have unrestricted – and unobserved – access to their victim.

  • Means:  With “access,” they are able to gain the elder’s trust, confidence or affection and use their “special” relationship to charm, cajole, coerce and steal – outright – from their victim.


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