Elder financial abuse occurs when someone steals or misuses an elderly person’s money or property to benefit themselves or another person. It’s a broad term that can refer to many different criminal acts including financial exploitation, fraud, scams and identify theft.
According to the National Council on Aging, the annual losses of elder financial abuse victims are estimated to be at least $36.5 billion.
Financial abuse doesn’t just hit seniors’ wallets – it can also have devastating effects on their credit. A victim may be financially compromised and unable to afford their bills, or their identity can be stolen and used to commit fraud. Both scenarios can have lasting negative effects to the victim’s credit.
Who Commits Elder Financial Abuse?
Seniors are often vulnerable to people in their close proximity. Elder financial abuse is often perpetrated by the adult children of the victim, but it can also be committed by relatives, family friends, nursing home workers or other caregivers.
It can even come from professionals charged with managing the senior’s affairs, such as an attorney, trustee, guardian, financial advisor or someone with power of attorney.
Anonymous criminals also target the elderly. Seniors are popular targets because they are often perceived as having wealth and income, such as retirement savings or Social Security benefits. They may also be less likely to report a crime if they are less technologically savvy or inattentive to their finances and credit reports.
Many scams that target seniors involve the criminal impersonating a person the senior trusts or pretending to be from an organization like a government agency.
How Does Elder Financial Abuse Affect a Senior’s Credit?
The impact of elder financial abuse on a victim’s credit depends on the nature of the abuse. Financial abuse that targets savings or income may cause seniors to have difficulty paying their bills on time, resulting in late payments or delinquent accounts. These negative items can land on a victim’s credit report and impact their credit for the worse.
The senior may also be convinced to make purchases or take on debts that only benefit the abuser. This can result in unmanageable debt, high credit card balances and multiple hard inquiries on the victim’s credit report. Excessive debt, high credit card balances and too many hard inquiries can negatively impact a person’s credit.
If someone gets ahold of a senior’s personal identifiable information like their name, address, and Social Security number, they can use that information to commit identity theft. Fraudulent accounts opened in the victim’s name can land on their credit report and go unpaid, wrecking the victim’s credit for years.
What are the Common Signs of Elder Financial Abuse?
Recognizing elder financial abuse can be more difficult than spotting signs of physical abuse or neglect. That’s because the abuse is often committed by someone deemed trustworthy, and the evidence may live “behind the scenes,” hidden in financial statements or credit reports. Here are some of the common signs of financial abuse:
Credit Report Changes.
Identity theft often shows up on credit reports in the form of accounts the victim never opened, credit applications the victim never submitted and other inaccurate information on credit reports.
Unrecognized bills in the mail can be a sign that a senior’s identity has been used to open fraudulent accounts.
If the senior is having trouble paying their bills on time when it wasn’t an issue before, they may be a victim of financial abuse.
Unusual Account Activity.
Unusual withdrawals from financial accounts or sudden account transfers to another person can indicate that someone else has access to the seniors’ accounts (or is convincing them to act outside of their own best interest).
Changes in Spending Habits.
If the senior is spending money on things they don’t use or never expressed interest in, or they no longer wish to spend money on things they previously enjoyed, they could be a victim of abuse.
The senior is acting worried or stressed about money when they previously did not.
How to Monitor Credit for Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
The best way to help protect yourself or loved one from elder financial abuse depends on many factors, including the senior’s existing support system, how involved they are with their own finances, their wealth and income and more.
But there’s one simple way to help protect a senior’s credit and watch out for signs of financial abuse and identity theft: helping the senior closely watch their credit report.
When no one checks a credit report, red flags can go unnoticed for years before anyone recognizes a crime has occurred. At minimum, seniors or their caregivers should review their credit reports on an annual basis.
Credit report monitoring can take this process a step further, providing continuous oversight of credit reports and watching for possible signs of suspicious activity. Credit monitoring services, such as MyScoreIQ,can provide immediate alerts when changes land on a credit report, from new credit accounts to new credit applications to accounts going into delinquency.
With a credit monitoring plan, seniors or their caregivers can watch out for inaccurate information and react quickly to symptoms of fraud, abuse or identity theft.
How to Report Elder Financial Abuse
If you suspect that you or someone you know is a victim of elder financial abuse, you should report it immediately, even if you don’t have hard evidence, so that your suspicions can be investigated.
- If you believe the victim is in danger, call 911 or the local police department where the victim lives.
- If the victim is not in immediate danger, you can call Adult Protective Services at 1-800-91-PREVENT. APS will send out an investigator if they believe the suspected victim lacks the capacity to care for their own needs.
- If the victim is in a nursing home, assisted care or other long-term care, you can contact the long-term care ombudsman program in your state.
- To defend a senior against financial exploitation, find a lawyer that works in elder law.
- If you believe fraud has occurred, contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-822-372-8311. You will be assigned a case manager to help guide you through next steps and recovery.
- You can report financial abuse to your local district attorney and ask them to prosecute the abuser.
- If the financial abuse involved a financial account, work with the senior to contact their bank, credit union, credit card company, retirement account or other institution that was involved. Depending on the nature of the abuse, they may be able to recover stolen funds or at least prevent further abuse from happening.
- Identity theft should be reported to gov or at 877-876-2455 and the local police.
- Inaccurate information on the senior’s credit report should be disputed. All fraudulent activity must be reported to the major credit bureaus so it can be removed from credit reports. You will need to include an identity theft report obtained from IdentityTheft.gov, along with proof of identity and a letter identifying the inaccurate information.
- If the fraud is result of a scam, you can report it to the FTC. If the scam used the U.S. mail, you can report it to the S. Postal Inspection Service or call 877-876-2455.
When contacting third parties about elder financial abuse, you will need to provide details, including the victim’s name, address, telephone, known medical problems and any information you have about the suspected abuse.
If you witnessed financial abuse, you should keep records of the date, time, and location of the incidents, as well as the names of other witnesses who can help corroborate your story or provide additional information.