As a former white collar criminal prosecutor, I have witnessed the damage caused by financial elder
When you discover theft or fraud against an elder, the first thing you need to do is go to the local
police station and make a police report. Your police department will most likely have at least one
detective who specializes in crimes against seniors and should be able to instruct you about other
steps you should take.
First, what is Financial Abuse of Elder?
As a society we have decided that crimes against senior citizens deserve greater punishment than
identical crimes against younger people. As we age and our physical and mental abilities begin to
decline, we become more vulnerable to financial predators and con artists, people who feel no empathy
and who prey on the weak.
Financial elder abuse consists of crimes that might otherwise be described as theft and fraud, and it
comes in many forms. Unscrupulous telemarketers sweet talk senior citizens into fake romances,
lotteries and charities, all of which require them to send money to the fraudster. Criminals con them
into risking their life savings in fraudulent investment opportunities, like Ponzi schemes. (Remember
Bernie Madoff?) And unethical caregivers (who are often family members) use fraudulent powers of
attorney, fake deeds and falsified wills to empty their bank accounts and steal their real estate.
Life gets scary as we get older, and we provide extra protection to people over a certain age. The age at
which elder abuse laws come into play varies from state to state and between the state and federal
governments, but typically they apply to people 65 years of age and older.
Where Should I Report Financial Elder Abuse?
As soon as you have evidence of elder financial fraud, you should take action immediately. Time is of the
The police have tools to figure out what is going on. Once they open an investigation, they can use
search warrants to obtain financial records, phone records and any other evidence of a crime. More
importantly, as they begin to gather evidence and interview witnesses, the fraudster is likely to get
scared and stop their criminal behavior.
Depending on the size of the police agency, they might separate financial investigations from other
types of elder abuse, i.e., physical, mental and sexual. In financial investigations, the police will look for
the following types of evidence abuse:
• Unusual activity in the bank accounts, such as withdrawals from ATMs when the elder cannot walk
or get to the bank.
• Signatures on checks and other documents that do not resemble the elder.
• Recent changes of title of house when the person is incapable of understanding the nature of the
• Power of attorney given when person is unable to comprehend the financial situation and is
incompetent to grant power of attorney.
• Recent will when the person is clearly incapable of making a will.
They have ways to investigate the situation that you don’t have. Let them do their job.
Adult Protective Services
Your city, county or state might also have a multi-agency elder abuse taskforce, and adult protective
service (APS) will take the lead. APS provides in-person response to abused, neglected and exploited
Like the police, these social workers look for evidence of all types of abuse, and in the case of financial
exploitation, they will look for:
• Basic needs not being met.
• Bills not getting paid.
• Unexplained financial charges.
• Unusual purchases.
• Changes in banking habits.
• Giving away assets such as money and property.
When appropriate, APS will work closely with the fraud investigators from the police department to
uncover the fraud, to help the elder and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Oftentimes, elders have family members – typically adult children – who need to know what is
happening to their parents, but they may have children of their own who keep them distracted. Further,
they are simply not used to idea that that mom and dad need them – the rolls are reversing. In these
situations, unscrupulous caregivers take control of the situation and begin to steal from them.
Just a couple of days ago, a pair of housekeepers in North Carolina were sentenced to federal prison for financial elder abuse against a demented elderly client. The stole almost $300,000 from her, attempted
to steal title to her house and proactively kept her out of contact with her relatives.
So let the family know. The police and adult protective services can stop the criminal and provide
immediate relief, but the family needs to step in to prevent such crimes from happening again.
CONCLUSION: Keep an eye on seniors and report abuse
If there are senior citizens in your family or in your life in general, keep an eye on them. Visit them
regularly or at a minimum, talk with them on the phone or by videocall. You can keep an eye on the title
to their home with a subscription service like TitleShield™.
Then, if you do discover evidence of financial elder abuse, or any type of elder abuse for that matter, go
to the police and adult protective services immediately. They have systems in place and will spring into
action, but they can’t do anything until someone let’s them know there is a problem.
Lastly, inform family members so that they can provide the necessary support.
– David Fleck, CEO