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Elder exploitation is a growing problem in the United States.  Some estimate that Americans lose as much as $2.9 billion a year due to financial exploitation.  Often exploitation goes undiscovered until all an elder’s money is gone.  Determining whether an elderly loved one has been victimized can be difficult.

The following are possible warning signs of financial exploitation of an elder.  While this is not an exhaustive list, exploiters exhibit many similar behaviors and actions when preying on vulnerable members of our community.

____  Vulnerable adult being isolated and unable to communicate with others outside the presence of the caregiver.

____  Expresses paranoia that family members are out to steal his/her money (except for the exploiter).

____  Unusual or inappropriate activity on a bank account.

____  Unusual or out-of-character withdrawals from a bank account.

____  Adds caregiver’s name to bank account signature card and/or credit cards.

____  Numerous or frequent withdrawals in round amounts. Example: $250, $500, $600, $1000.

____  Unusual or out of character purchases. Examples: A motorcycle for an elderly woman confined to her home; a new car when there is no need; expensive jewelry.

____  Vulnerable adult is accompanied by caregiver when conducting financial transactions.

____  Inordinately high compensation for caregivers. Example: Vulnerable adult paying a caregiver $1000 a week to drive them to doctors’ appointments.

____  Odd and duplicative payments to caregiver. Example: Vulnerable adult paying a caregiver $500 more than once in a week or several times a month, but not in a consistent pattern such as weekly.

____  Large withdrawals of money despite adverse tax consequences or other penalties.

____  Large or repeated transfers of assets to another person that are out-of-character.

____  Large or frequent withdrawals from checking accounts, often with checks written for CASH.

____  Large or frequent withdrawals from accounts when withdrawal slips or checks are signed by vulnerable adult, but completed by another individual.

____  Numerous unpaid bills associated with housing, care or food.

____ Changes in beneficiaries on insurance policies, IRA’s or pay on death accounts, particularly to caregivers.

____ Changes to accounts, beneficiary designation or ownership by an agent to that agent using a power of attorney.

____ Valuable property missing without reasonable explanation. Example: Elderly woman’s wedding ring is missing and caregiver claims it was lost by elderly woman who never took it off.

____  Lack of amenities that the vulnerable person can/should be able to afford such as personal hygiene items, appropriate clothing, TV, phone.

____  Recent changes to or creation of estate planning documents when a person is incapable of doing so.

____  Recent changes to or creation of estate planning documents such as a power of attorney or trust naming an unusual or unexpected individual as a fiduciary. Example: Durable Power of Attorney naming a caregiver instead of a trusted family member as the agent.

____  Caregiver is unusually concerned about the financial status and location of assets belonging vulnerable adult.

If you believe your loved one is the victim of elder exploitation you should immediately report it to the adult protective services authority in your loved one’s state or local law enforcement.  Once you have reported the potential exploitation, talk to an elder law attorney to find out what you can do to protect your loved one from further harm.