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Financial Abuse: Could You Spot It?

By Eileen Beal, MA

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In addition, changes in long-standing living arrangements  (especially those involving the “new” friend); changes in  long-standing inheritance plans; and creation of a durable power of attorney – a powerful legal document that gives the abuser the means to control both the elder’s person and assets – are blazing red flags.

Prevention: always the best remedy

Financial abuse is a crime, so it’s surprising that while more cases are being reported, few abusers stand trial and go to jail.  That’s because, says Ulrey, “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...Or they are ashamed to admit that they have been taken advantage of.”

Since it’s often difficult to prosecute exploiters – not just because of the reasons mentioned above, but also because often the victim has passed away or is so cognitively impaired they are unable to testify – to keep a vulnerable relative or loved one out of harms way you must be pro-active.  And the earlier deterrents and roadblocks are set in place, the better.

The following are time-tested strategies for keeping financial abusers at bay:

  • 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,” says Ulrey.

  • Become hyper-vigilant about the person’s physical health and cognitive state.  “Declines in both can make them vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation,” explained Stevic-Rust.

  • Help the person get information about exploitative situations, schemes, or scams they may encounter (see resources below) and to become better educated about their finances.

  • Help the person consult with legal and/or financial professionals who can draw up documents (trusts, limited powers of attorney, conservatorships, etc.).  “These can  – and for the most part do, deter financial exploiters,” says Ulrey.

  • Report suspected cases of financial abuse to local authorities.  Adult Protective Services departments are listed for every state at the National Adult Protective Services Association’s Web site ( “This site doesn’t just have the telephone numbers for reporting financial abuse, they take anonymous tips too,” says the Association’s 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,” says Ulrey.


Eileen Beal is a Cleveland, Ohio-based writer who has been writing about caregiver issues for more than a decade. This article was written with the support of a MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship grant administered through New America Media ( and the Gerontological Society of America (


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